Fights are never over till they’re over. Nonetheless, the half-century political career of one of the most influential politicians in state history has never been in more trouble.
Thought to be six votes short of retaining the powerful post of Speaker of the Illinois House, 78-year-old Michael Madigan is in even worse shape. That’s one reason why on Monday he suspended — probably temporarily — his re-election bid.
As of Monday, he was nine votes short of the 60 votes he needs from his 73-member Democratic House caucus to retain the post he’s held for all but two years since 1983.
Madigan said he took the action with the best interests of his colleagues at heart.
“As I have said many times in the past, I have always put the best interests of the House Democratic Caucus and our members first. The House Democratic Caucus can work to find someone, other than me, to get 60 votes for Speaker,” he said.
While suspending his campaign, Madigan notably declined to direct his supporters to choose another candidate. State Sen. Chapin Rose, a Mahomet Republican, speculated that Madigan’s opponents will also fail to get 60 votes.
“When those people don’t get to 60, he’ll just reinsert himself,” Rose suggested.
But there’ll be drama aplenty as unfolding events lay the groundwork for what could be a paralyzed legislative body when the newly elected House starts at noon Wednesday.
The drama over Madigan’s future has, to some extent, overshadowed other issues of great significance — a package of dramatic legislative changes in law enforcement, education, health care and economic equity that are getting a last-minute legislative push during the lame-duck session that concludes Wednesday morning.
The massive law enforcement package has the state’s police groups apoplectic over its consequences. Each proposal is hundreds of pages long, to the point that it’s impossible to briefly summarize them.
Critics have charged the package of bills not only contain unwise policy changes but were dropped on the House and Senate at the last minute with the idea of passing them so fast legislators — and the public — won’t know what they’re voting on.
Members of the legislative Black caucus deny that claim, arguing that proponents held numerous Zoom hearings over the past few months that discussed ideas in each of the proposals. Opponents and representatives of the affected interest groups, however, contend they were, for the most part, cut out of the process and denied access to the proposed bills until they were filed last week.
This kind of last-minute decision-making on major legislation is nothing new to the General Assembly. These four proposals, however, would mark one the most ambitious efforts in recent memory to pass so much so fast.
The most glaring omission in this massive legislative package is cost, a significant factor given Illinois’ dire fiscal status.
The outcome is controlled by legislative Democrats, who hold super-majority status in both the House and Senate. With their overwhelming numbers, they can easily pass all the legislation, their decision to do so depending on how willing they are to alienate important groups like the medical, business, law enforcement and education groups.
The measures are filled with controversial proposals. The equity proposal includes the establishment of an African Descent-Citizens Reparations Commission charged with developing legislation to negotiate payments from institutions that had ties to the state trade.
While many of the proposals are controversial, some are legally problematic.
For example, the law enforcement bill would strip police officers of qualified immunity and leave them personally vulnerable to litigation.
The legal concept of “qualified immunity” is the product of a U.S. Supreme Court decision that applies to police sued in federal court. There has been some recent discussion of modifying it, but there are doubts that it can be repealed by state statute.
Jim Dey, a member of The News-Gazette staff, can be reached at email@example.com or 217-351-5369.