The workplace culture in the Illinois House of Representatives, just like everywhere, is established from the very top down.
A ship’s captain has an executive officer for the same reason a top public official has a chief of staff — to do the dirty work of keeping everyone sharp and making sure the job gets done right.
If that requires stepping on toes, so be it. Everyone knows the score, especially the captain or, in the case of all the unpleasantness in the Illinois House of Representatives, Speaker Michael Madigan.
An outside report about a culture of harassment (sexual and otherwise), bullying and retaliation that was released last week identified Timothy Mapes, Madigan’s longtime chief of staff, as the bad actor in all the drama under the Statehouse dome.
But naming Mapes, for all practical purposes, was the same as naming Madigan. They were joined at the hip.
So it was revealing to watch Gov. J.B. Pritzker, Republican House Leader Jim Durkin and even Maggie Hickey, the author of the report, go out of their way to avoid antagonizing Madigan by calling a spade a spade.
Mapes did the dirty work, and Madigan was concerned that it got done, not how it got done.
What really could be more obvious?
Well, it’s not obvious to Pritzker. At least that’s what he said, and with a straight face, too.
Pritzker not only gave Madigan a pass, he blamed “everybody,” which actually means nobody.
“I think we need to hold everybody accountable, and that means we need to address the culture,” Pritzker said.
The governor acknowledged the report detailed “a special kind of harassment and intimidation from Tim Mapes.” But he excused Madigan from any responsibility because he said he didn’t know what Madigan knew about what his chief aide did from 1992 up to his 2018 dismissal. That’s 26 long years.
Durkin wouldn’t even go that far.
“I’m not going to get involved with the House Democrats and how they manage their operations. I have nothing further to say on that,” he said.
Hickey, a former state inspector general, acknowledged the atmosphere of intimidation that keep many of Madigan’s critics quiet. But she, too, went no farther than excoriating Mapes.
Sure, Mapes was an unpleasant bad guy, a bully who reveled in demeaning almost everyone but his boss.
But the reluctance to link Mapes and Madigan by all concerned demonstrates once again that no one messes with the speaker — if they know what’s good for them.
Part of that reticence is designed to keep the line of communication and cooperation open. But part of it also has to do with Madigan’s well-deserved reputation as a man with his hands on all the levers of power who is willing to use them against his critics.
That’s not going to change, no matter how much Pritzker talks about the culture.
That’s not to say that the responsible parties, including Madigan, shouldn’t do what they can to create a reasonably pleasant work atmosphere where everyone is treated with the respect that ought to be a part of any employer/employee relationship.
But gaining and maintaining power is part of the political and legislative process, and the best politicians are masters of controlling their turf, the House chamber in Madigan’s case.
Madigan, through his use of carrots and sticks, is a masterful political tactician.
Cold by nature, he had no problem turning a blind eye to Mapes’ tactics as long as Mapes made the trains run on time.
When Mapes’ personality and tactics became a political problem in 2018, Madigan fired him and hired another, presumably more respectful, chief of staff to make sure the trains continue to run on time.
Madigan may change people, but he doesn’t change his approach to the exercise of power. Those who must work with him know that and, for the most part, adjust their words and actions accordingly.