Lonely voice in the wilderness

Lonely voice in the wilderness

When it comes to one controversial issue, a Democratic candidate for governor has the field almost entirely to himself.

State Rep. Scott Drury, the little-known Highwood Democrat who is running for the Democratic nomination for governor, long ago alienated Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan by refusing to adhere to Madigan's dictates.

Now he's getting under the skin of his fellow Democratic candidates for governor because Drury's public criticism of Madigan's dictatorial rule of the Illinois House results in them being asked about the powerful Democrat they don't want to anger.

Drury recently drew public attention when he said "Madigan is Illinois' own Dr. Frankenstein. He created Gov. Rauner."

The logic behind that statement is that Illinois voters were so sick of Madigan's many policy failures during his lengthy tenure in Springfield that voters desperately turned to a Republican — Bruce Rauner — in the 2014 election gubernatorial election.

There's merit to that claim. Illinois is a solid Democratic state, and a decent Democrat will whip a good Republican every time in a statewide race. But Illinois has been and is now a political junk heap, to the point that voters are disgusted with, among others, Speaker Madigan and his beloved failing political status quo.

Drury, who represents a suburban Chicago district, has not been shy about discussing his many differences of opinion with both Madigan and Rauner. But as a candidate in the upcoming March primary, he's focusing on Madigan because Drury, a former federal prosecutor, wants to attract the votes of the many thousands of Democratic voters statewide who also are disgusted with Madigan's rule.

Despite his firm grip on power in Springfield, Madigan is incredibly unpopular statewide.

Still, he's a factor to be reckoned with, and some of the other Democratic candidates want to be anti-Madigan without being so anti-Madigan that the vindictive speaker retaliates.

Hence, they do not appreciate Drury's outspoken criticism of Madigan for two reasons. It's a winning argument with voters. Those same voters then ask them what they think of Madigan.

That's why it was instructive last week when a Chicago newspaper columnist asked some of Drury's rivals what they think of Madigan and what they think of Drury emphasizing Madigan as part of his campaign.

State Sen. Daniel Biss, the uber liberal from Evanston, acknowledged that "Mike Madigan is part of the problem" but said "calling people names is a waste of time and counterproductive."

Chicago Alderman Ameya Pawar criticized Drury for something Drury didn't say — that Madigan is responsible for all the state's problems.

"The idea that one person is responsible for the state's problems ignores how both sides have contributed to them, and it does Bruce Rauner a great favor," he said. "Leaders of both parties haven't been willing to raise the money to pay for the services people say they want. They haven't been willing to tell voters that we live in a very wealthy state with a very regressive tax system."

Chicago businessman Christopher Kennedy, a former chairman of the University of Illinois Board of Trustees, has been critical of Madigan, mostly because Madigan is backing one of his rivals, billionaire businessman J.B. Pritzker. But he took a pass on Madigan and launched an attack on Rauner.

"It's not my job to defend Mike Madigan. There's plenty of blame to go around. Rauner has fabricated the fiction that if it weren't for Madigan, we'd have a balanced budget, our credit rating would improve and all our problems would be solved. But speakers don't lead states, governors do. And ours has lacked strong governors with a strong vision," he said.

Kennedy also was quoted as saying he'd be "oppositional" with Madigan during the primary season.

Most glaring in the reactions to Drury's rhetorical attacks on Madigan was the non-response from Madigan's favored candidate, Pritzker.

Madigan has helped arrange union endorsements of Pritzker that are striking because they came so early in the primary campaign season. He wants to pre-empt Pritzker's opponents because the billionaire can self-fund his race for governor, leaving Madigan with a bulging campaign treasury to use in legislative races.

Pritzker has returned the favor by repeatedly embracing Madigan, stating that it only helps Republicans when Democrats are critical of the speaker. His campaign stated that "J.B. is focused on holding Bruce Rauner accountable for the damage he has done across this state and for his failed leadership."

Drury, of course, is used to being alone when the Madigan issue comes up. He was the only House Democrat to oppose Madigan's recent re-election as House speaker. He argues that if Democrats want to fix Illinois, they can't ignore the problems Madigan represents.

"It's almost as if there is a Voldemort (Harry Potter's nemesis) in the state of Illinois and no one wants to use his name. And if you can't use his name, how are you going to fix the problem?" Drury said at a campaign appearance last week in Chicago.

"To me and to the public — I'm not an outlier here — it is a Madigan problem, and we have to address it. We have to address it as a party. I'm concerned about the Democratic Party. I'm concerned about the longevity of the Democratic Party. I'm concerned that we are losing younger voters who look at the stale Democratic Party and they won't want to be a part of it. I'm concerned we're losing voters who have seen the same old thing year after year, decade after decade, of promises from the Democratic Party that we don't deliver on."

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