It’s rare in the aftermath of a big Illinois election for Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan to feel the need to book a room at Heartbreak Hotel and ponder his political future.
But Tuesday was a tough day for Madigan, exactly the kind to make this enigmatic power broker and master manipulator take a long walk down Lonely Street in search of respite.
Not only does he have newly emboldened poodle politicians — U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin and Gov. J.B. Pritzker — nipping at his heels, but dobermans in the U.S. Attorney’s office in Chicago going for his throat.
Consider one problem at a time.
Everyone knows by now Madigan’s alleged central role in the bribery scheme. He claims to be pure as the driven snow, but this conspiracy is huge, and Madigan’s friends and associates have leading roles. There are many shoes left to drop.
The speaker’s immediate problem is political. Democrats don’t really care about Madigan’s ethically marginal approach to government and politics.
They do care when Democrats start losing elections, results for which Madigan’s shady reputation is largely responsible.
That they cannot forgive.
Democrats, of course, are still firmly in control of Illinois. Republicans are, largely, an irrelevance.
But not everything went the Dems’ way Tuesday, and that is the source of Madigan’s immediate troubles.
Madigan saw his Democrats lose two Illinois Supreme Court seats, thanks to energetic advertising campaigns linking candidates Tom Kilbride and Judy Cates to the allegedly unsavory 78-year-old Chicago politician.
He saw Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s proposed progressive income-tax amendment to the Illinois Constitution go down in flames. Opponents hit the trust theme hard, questioning whether voters could trust politicians like Madigan with many billions of dollars more in new revenue.
If that’s not bad enough — and it is — Madigan failed to pad his House super-majority with new members he planned to use to stave off a challenge to his position as speaker.
Despite overwhelming advantages in organization and money, it looks as if he’ll lose two seats from his 74-44 House majority.
As a consequence, some Democrats are concluding that Madigan just isn’t worth the trouble his sociopathic approach to government and public policy generates.
That’s why Durbin cautiously suggested that — maybe, just maybe, please forgive him for saying so — Madigan’s “presence as chairman of our party is not helping.”
“... the advertising told the story. We paid a heavy price for the speaker’s chairmanship of the Democratic Party. Candidates who had little or no connection with him whatsoever were being tarred as Madigan allies who are behind corruption and so forth and so on,” said Durbin, who won another six-year term in the U.S. Senate.
“Not helping” is pretty thin criticism. But in Madigan world, where Democrats traditionally have kept their criticism of the speaker to themselves, it’s a thunderclap.
Pritzker piled on by stating that “I agree with Sen. Durbin.”
“Opponents were able to tap into voters’ concerns about corruption and their lack of trust in government,” he said.
Madigan, of course, is Mr. Democrat, the longtime speaker of the Illinois House and state party chairman.
He controls multiple campaign funds that collect many millions in interest-group donations that he uses to bankroll the candidates of his choice.
But his overwhelming political advantages didn’t translate into expected Democratic victories.
For his part, Madigan professed to be unimpressed by the criticism and indicated he’s not going anywhere.
He said he’s proud of “my record electing Democrats who support workers and families and represent the diversity of our state” and looks “forward to continuing our fight for working families as chairman of the Democratic Party of Illinois.”
Being the astute political analyst that he is, Madigan knows it’s not that simple.
He has anxiety to quell and challenges to turn back. Harder times are ahead, but Madigan has always been a hard man to beat.
Jim Dey, a member of The News-Gazette staff, can be reached at email@example.com or 217-351-5369.