Editorial | Sending a clear message

Editorial | Sending a clear message

Democrats know it's not wise to make waves with Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan.

Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan remains — and probably will continue to do so — a lightning rod in Illinois politics, and not just among the Republicans he steam-rolls on a regular basis.

A couple of his fellow Democrats who dare to speak out against him publicly expressed outrage this week after state Rep. Kelly Cassidy charged that one of the Madigoons — the nickname for Madigan henchmen — got her ousted from her part-time job at the Cook County sheriff's office.

Cassidy, who has criticized Madigan's handling of sexual harassment issues, charged that a couple of Madigan flunkies — his chief of staff and a loyal Democratic House member — started making inquiries about her work at the sheriff's office and then questioned how she could retain her employment while opposing a piece of legislation favored by Sheriff Tom Dart.

The bottom line is that Cassidy alleges that she was, effectively, forced to submit her resignation from the sheriff's office, a direct consequence of her public questioning of Madigan's action on sexual harassment.

Madigan responded to her charge with wide-eyed innocence, asking how anyone could suspect him of such nefarious conduct.

"I have never taken any action to interfere with your outside employment, and I have never directed anyone else to do so. I have no idea why you feel that I am somehow retaliating against you as a result of your criticisms, particularly given that I agreed to your requests for an outside counsel and an independent review," Madigan wrote in a letter to Cassidy.

Cassidy wasn't the least bit persuaded. She responded that Madigan doesn't do his own dirty work, that it's taken care of by loyalists.

"This is the process, and if you stand up to him, if you speak out, someone will take care of it," she said.

State Sen. Daniel Biss offered his rhetorical support for Cassidy's contention that Madigan works through cutouts.

"That's by design, and that's how it always works. There's a reason Madigan's held on to power for so long," Biss said.

That's also a reason he'll continue to hold power. While Biss and Cassidy were speaking up, their fellow Democrats were notably silent. Indeed, their silence was deafening.

They know the risks of getting out of line, although it's virtual certainty there's a lot of backstage clucking.

To demonstrate the sincerity of his proclamations of innocence, Madigan has asked for an investigation by legislative inspector general Julie Porter into what occurred.

Frankly, targeting Cassidy for punishment seems to be pretty small potatoes. Despite some recent setbacks, Madigan remains in complete control of the state Democratic Party, of which he was recently re-elected as chairman, and of the General Assembly, where he has a vice grip on the legislative process. Plus, he stands on the precipice of restoring Illinois to one-party Democratic rule if he can knock Republican Bruce Rauner out of the governor's office in November.

Then again, it's not for nothing that he's called the "Velvet Hammer," one of several intimidating monickers he carries. Punishing a dissenter, particularly in the wallet, would send a useful message to any House Democrat considering following Cassidy's lead.

The controversy also sends a message about Madigan to the public. Some of those who know him best also are fearful and suspicious of him.

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