Jim Dey | Madigan doesn't get mad — he gets even

Jim Dey | Madigan doesn't get mad — he gets even

Politics is, as much as anything else, about messaging.

Sometimes the message is subtle. Other times it's as subtle as a sledgehammer to the head.

Only rarely is it counterintuitive — too much thinking is required.

That's why campaign signs posted in Naperville Township in the Chicago suburbs speak volumes about this election year in Illinois.

They read, "Help Mike Madigan — Vote Democrat."

The signs are paid for and posted by Naperville Township Republicans, who clearly do not want to help Democratic Party power broker and longtime House Speaker Michael Madigan.

So what's up?

Republicans are hoping public revulsion felt for the Diminutive Don will spur voters to reject Madigan by voting for Republicans, not Democrats.

That theme, to one degree or another, has been adopted by Republican candidates throughout the state, from legislative candidates deep in southern Illinois and up in the Chicago suburbs to statewide races like attorney general.

Of course, no Republican has pounded the anti-Madigan theme harder than incumbent Gov. Bruce Rauner, who has throughout his term in office denounced the all-powerful Madigan as a malign and corrupt influence from the top to the bottom of government here.

Just last week, during a radio appearance, Rauner went on at length about the extent of Madigan's control over the levers of power.

"Bruce, are you saying that there's a deep state in Illinois when it comes to Madigan?" a radio host asked.

"Well, I can tell you there absolutely is, and it is corrupt. It's corrosive, and it's very powerful," Rauner said. "Madigan is the head of it, but he's got his cronies, his minions all buried in the judiciary in the judicial branch, all through the General Assembly and unfortunately in most of the departments over in the administration, the executive branch of government."

Many people believe that. It's why Madigan's negatives are sky high in public opinion polls. It explains why many Democratic candidates for the Illinois House suddenly lose their voices when constituents ask if they will vote to re-elect Madigan as House speaker in January.

How ironic it is that just when Madigan's public standing in Illinois is at its lowest, he's on the verge of a smashing victory that will eliminate any organized opposition to him.

On Tuesday, Democrats are expected to sweep all the statewide races, with the possible exception of attorney general. Madigan's candidate for governor is expected to crush Rauner, the Speaker's most hated political foe.

Democrats not only will retain their large majority in the House, but chances are good they'll expand it to a super-majority. At the same time, Senate Democrats will maintain their current super-majority.

Then in January 2019, Madigan will again be approved for another two-year term as speaker. At 76 and as power-hungry as ever, Madigan's expected re-election as speaker will mean he's held that post for all but two years since 1983. Representing his small, now largely Hispanic district in Chicago, Madigan has been in the House since 1971. He is the longest-serving leader of any state or federal legislative body in this country's history. (Madigan also is longtime chairman of the state Democratic Party.)

Back in early 2017, to celebrate and commemorate his record-setting tenure, Madigan gave fancy clocks to all Democratic members of the House, save one.

That was state Rep. Scott Drury of Highwood, a former federal prosecutor who publicly expressed disgust with the state's reputation for corruption and Madigan's hammerlock on power. Drury also had the gall not to support Madigan's re-election as speaker.

The clock slight was the political equivalent of the mafia kiss of death — Madigan and his minions helped see to it that Drury's political career is, at least for the time being, over.

That's why Rep. Drury will be former Rep. Drury when the new General Assembly convenes.

At the same time Madigan is re-elected speaker, House members will again approve legislative rules that give him sole control of the legislative process in that body. As a consequence, nothing he opposes — term limits, redistricting reform — will ever be put to a vote.

As for legislative Republicans, it's back to the future for them — 2003 to 2015 when they were irrelevant — crushed under the wheels of a political onslaught they cannot stop.

The polls have been wrong before. So there are no guarantees. But Tuesday should be Madigan's big day in Illinois, and he can wait patiently for the votes to be counted. After all, revenge on Rauner and all the rest who nipped at his ankles for the past four years is a dish best served cold.

Jim Dey, a member of The News-Gazette staff, can be reached by email at jdey@news-gazette.com or by phone at 217-351-5369.

Sections (2):Columns, Opinion