Remember the aphorism that no one should watch either sausage or legislation being made because the process is so ugly.
That’s generally true, but not always. It can sometimes be fun to watch legislative sausage being made, and there is no better example of that exception than the Mike Madigan show on display in Springfield.
Is the Diminutive Don finally going down? If so, it would be a huge political event.
Or is the evil genius about to give another tutorial in tactics that would astound even Machiavelli?
If one can ignore the fact that Illinois state government is the equivalent of a dumpster fire, the ongoing machinations are first-rate theatrics.
As most people know, Madigan is determined to retain his iron grip on power in the General Assembly by maintaining his long-held position as House speaker.
But, buffeted by waves of corruption stemming from the Commonwealth Edison bribery scandal, he’s facing unprecedented opposition.
At least nine votes — up from what was thought to be six — short of the required
60 to be re-elected to the top job in the House, Madigan suspended his re-election bid on Monday.
“This is not a withdrawal,” he said, explaining that he is kindly giving House Democrats the opportunity to find another candidate who can get the required 60 votes.
Members of the women’s caucus insist the next speaker must be female. Black legislators want a Black speaker, and Chicago Rep. Christian Welch has stepped forward to stake his claim to the post.
Or has he? Is Welch serious? Or a Madigan stalking horse? He is, after all, a longtime protege of the 78-year-old Madigan who helped deep-six the House investigation of Madigan’s role in the ComEd scandal.
Then there is Majority Leader Greg Harris, the leading gay politician in Illinois.
Madigan, of course, plays his cards close to the vest, priding himself on being a riddle shrouded in mystery wrapped in an enigma.
But his play is easy to read. He’s suspended — but hasn’t withdrawn — his candidacy for speaker because he’s betting none of his would-be successors will be able to get 60 votes.
After they punch themselves out in Madigan’s version of rope-a-dope, he’s expecting enough of them to bend to the inevitable and turn to him. At that point, sober on the outside but chuckling on the inside, the king of three-dimensional chess will accede to their request.
His strategy depends on the Gang of 19 — his initial opponents — cracking under increasing pressure on the House to choose a speaker and get on with its business. That’s a distinct possibility.
A veteran legislative observer says individual members of “Gang of 19” are paranoid that enough of them will reach an accommodation with Madigan. That would leave them high, dry and vulnerable to retaliation if Madigan draws the new legislative map that will take effect in the 2022 elections.
They have issued a statement saying that will never happen. It reads, in part, “We will not be supporting Michael J. Madigan for Speaker of the Illinois House at any stage of the voting process. It is time for new Democratic leadership in the Illinois House.”
Maybe it is. Veteran General Assembly watchers — Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mark Brown and Capitol Fax publisher Rich Miller — suggest that Madigan’s done and knows it.
But Brown added a caveat to his prediction.
“... I really think it is over for Madigan, except that it can’t be over until he explicitly says it’s over — or until somebody else puts together the 60 votes,” Brown wrote.
That’s a blinding glimpse of the obvious, but it speaks volumes.
This is a power struggle that requires one side or the other to say “uncle.”
It’s a matter of record that that word is not in Madigan’s vocabulary. At least, it never has been, and he’s loath to add it to his personal lexicon under these circumstances.
So how long will this go on before one side or the other capitulates? It’s impossible to say — that and the stakes involved are what make it so interesting.
Jim Dey, a member of The News-Gazette staff, can be reached at email@example.com or 217-351-5369.