Boss of the House

Boss of the House

If it seems like Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan has been around forever, it's because ....

All hail Speaker Michael Madigan.

It's time to give the devil his due, even though the real devil bitterly resents being compared to Speaker Madigan.

The all-powerful veteran Democratic legislator from Chicago set an amazing record on Aug. 5 that is a tribute to his political sagacity and tenacity. He set the record for being the longest-serving state House speaker in the history of this country.

First elected as speaker in 1983 at age 40, he bested the previous record tenure of 11,893 days (321 / 2 years) held by South Carolina Speaker Solomon Blatt (from 1937 to 1947 and from 1951 to 1973). Now 75, Madigan was first elected to the Illinois House in January 1971.

Combining shrewd political judgment and intense personal discipline, he moved up to the top job in the Illinois House in just 12 years and has held it for all but two years in the 1990s, when Republicans briefly took control of the chamber.

Madigan's brand of politics has been very good for him, allowing him to acquire power, perks, prosperity and patronage jobs that he hands out to loyal political supporters and campaign donors.

But his long tenure hasn't done much for the state of Illinois, perhaps explaining why the Chicago Tribune recently editorialized that it's past time for Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton, Madigan's mini-me, to retire from politics.

But that day will never come, at least not until Speaker Madigan has no choice in the matter. Politics is what animates Madigan's life. Besides, being a former influential politician in Chicago is the equivalent of being a loser who lives in Loserville. It's a rare politician in the Windy City who ever leaves of his own accord.

So it's likely that Madigan, who just set a new record, has an eye on setting another one.

Speaker Blatt of South Caroline not only held the record for longest-serving speaker, he's still ahead of Madigan in terms of years served in the South Carolina House. Blatt served 53 years there, meaning Madigan has at least another six years to go.

Assuming the state hasn't completely disintegrated by then, at least in part due to more of Speaker Madigan's disastrous policy judgments, he'll easily exceed that number as well.

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