When House Speaker Michael Madigan speaks, Illinois Democrats listen.
There is, of course, an exception to almost every rule, and last week there was an exception to the Madigan rule of obeisance.
He laid down the law about how a successor to an allegedly corrupt former Chicago House member would be chosen. Rather than comply, the principal politicians overseeing the appointment of a new representative in the 3rd House district openly defied Madigan.
What’s next? Is it going to start snowing in the nether regions?
Well, perhaps not yet. But a Madigan spokesman said “the speaker’s position has not changed.” If he remains firm, the Madigan-led House will not seat the appointed successor — longtime politico Eva-Dina Delgado — to indicted former state Rep. Luis Arroyo.
It’s an usual set of circumstances driven by the appearance of corruption that has settled on Chicago municipal government, Cook County government and a handful of small municipalities in Cook and the General Assembly as a consequence of multiple federal criminal investigations.
This particular chapter relates to bribery charges filed against Arroyo that allegedly stem from his efforts to pay off a member of the Illinois Senate for sponsoring legislation he favored.
In the aftermath of that bombshell, the first thing Madigan did was threaten to expel Arroyo from the House. Instead, Arroyo resigned.
But Arroyo, as the Democratic Party’s committeeman from the city’s 36th Ward, still was in the position to appoint his successor. Madigan then ordered that Arroyo be removed from the appointment process and that the 36th Ward representatives not participate in choosing a successor.
“Any process that includes the participation of the 36th Ward — whether by direct vote or by proxy — would call the legitimacy of the appointment into question, and the qualifications of their candidate would be challenged by the full Illinois House of Representatives,” Madigan warned.
Rather than acquiesce, Arroyo, who as ward committeeman had enough votes to control the selection, gave his votes to Chicago Alderman Ariel Reboyras.
The alderman then chose Delgado and — just for emphasis — shoved Madigan’s order right back in the speaker’s face.
“We the committeemen made a decision because of every voter, every voter that needs to be represented in the 3rd Legislative District, including the 36th Ward,” Reboyras said. “I want to make that clear: including the 36th Ward.”
If Delgado is seated, she would hold the House seat until January 2021. If she wants to be elected, she’ll have to run in the March primary and November election.
But “if” is a big word in this dispute. Madigan has spoken, Reboyras has responded and all that’s left is for one of them to back off or both of them to fight.
Reboyras, joined by state Sen. Iris Martinez, has threatened to file a lawsuit if Madigan blocks Delgado from taking this House seat. Before he spends a lot of money on a lawyer, he’d be well advised to study the separation of powers among the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government.
As a separate and co-equal branch of government in Illinois, the Legislature retains the sole power to set its own rules on disputes of this nature. Under that arrangement, it’s hard to imagine how litigation challenging a decision not to seat Delgado would be subject to court intervention.
That, unfortunately, puts Delgado between two potentially warring parties — not a comfortable place to be, but a spot she chose.
Speaking of her situation, Delgado contended — without much credibility — that she is concentrating on running for election to the seat to which she’s been appointed.
“That’s really where my mind is right now,” she said, asserting that she’s “happy to defend my credentials and what I’ve done.”
Madigan has been successful in co-opting intra-party political opposition in the past. But his legitimate concerns about maintaining appearances in the midst of these corruption investigations is setting him up for a major political skirmish with the increasingly powerful Hispanic voting block in the city.
Indeed, Madigan himself is elected from the majority-Hispanic 22nd district in Chicago. He maintains his power base there with constituent service and a strong political organization.
He’ll rely on that political muscle to crush this outright challenge to his rule. If past is prologue, another Madigan foe will learn a hard lesson.