Illinois Republicans target House speaker
SPRINGFIELD – Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan is being derided as a vindictive leprechaun, called a corrupt tyrant and accused of carrying his daughter to the post of attorney general.
Illinois Republican leaders are heaping increasingly harsh criticism on Madigan as they try to make him in an issue in legislative races across Illinois this fall. But it also comes as Madigan and his fellow Democrats are negotiating with Republican legislative leaders on how to cut government pension costs, raising the question of whether the barbs will make it harder to reach a deal.
Madigan Spokesman Steve Brown said it won’t affect the speaker at the bargaining table, but one top Madigan lieutenant said the personal comments certainly don’t help.
“Does it tend to poison the well? Yeah,” said House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie, D-Chicago.
State Republican Chairman Pat Brady said criticism isn’t personal and shouldn’t affect pension talks where, he said, Madigan is trying to stick suburban taxpayers with the bill for his own poor pension decisions.
“We’re just pointing out the facts,” Brady said. “It’s certainly not personal.”
At the Illinois Republican Party’s stat convention last weekend, Brady said, “We are under the thumb of a controlling, vindictive, ethically challenged, self-serving leprechaun, and I mean no disrespect to leprechauns.”
U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh, speaking at the same event, said: “He is a king. He is a tyrant. He is corrupt. Say it! Say it! My God, I don’t know why we’re afraid to say that. Michael Madigan is corrupt.”
Last week, the party sent out a mock Father’s Day letter from Attorney General Lisa Madigan to the speaker.
“Dear Daddy. ... I mean Mr. Speaker,” it said. “You are the greatest dad ever. You got me this cool Attorney General job, and that was after you got me that neat state senate seat.”
Lisa Madigan is serving her third term as attorney general. She got 65 percent of the vote in her last election after Republicans failed to find a major candidate willing to challenge her.
“Thanks for having all your union friends be real nice to me, they send me tons of campaign money at Christmas time, they must be rich!” said the GOP’s mock letter.
Lisa Madigan declined to comment. But Currie, the House majority leader, called the letter ridiculous, sexist and inappropriate.
“It’s way over the top,” Currie said.
Brady said he sees nothing inappropriate about the “Father’s Day” letter. He said Lisa Madigan had no experience as a prosecutor when she ran for attorney general and it was her father’s influence that pushed her to victory. The letter also refers to a Madigan son-in-law being hired by a Chicago-area transportation agency.
“There are legitimate questions,” Brady said. “Sometimes the truth hurts.”
Michael Madigan has been speaker of the Illinois House since 1983, with the exception of a two-year period in the 1990s. He helped elect and re-elect Gov. Rod Blagojevich and was a participant in many decisions contributing to the state’s budget problems.
He wields tremendous influence, thanks to his ability to block bills, assign lawmakers to committees and generally derail the plans of unfortunate legislators. He also serves as chairman of the state Democratic Party, collecting millions in campaign contributions and deciding which candidates get the money.
In his private life, Madigan built a lucrative law firm specializing in property tax issues. Investigations by the Chicago Tribune found that many of his clients could benefit from having a powerful ally at the state Capitol. In some cases, he has taken action that would help those clients indirectly.
But Madigan has avoided the scandals that have engulfed so many other Illinois politicians. He hasn’t been accused of pressuring groups to hire his law firm in exchange for helping them in Springfield. He often recuses himself on legislation that might directly benefit his clients.
The Republican legislative leaders, Sen. Christine Radogno and Rep. Tom Cross, attended the Republican convention where Madigan was the target of so much criticism. This week, they’re to sit down with him and other Democrats for another negotiating session.
Both said the political comments shouldn’t complicate the pension talks. “We all get criticized by various folks, and we need to work through that,” Cross said.
Neither would comment on the mock Father’s Day letter.
Brady said his goal is to make a statewide issue out of Madigan’s decades in power. “The message we’re going to drive home is that a vote for any Democrat is a vote for Michael Madigan,” he said.
Madigan spokesman Steve Brown said the “petty” strategy won’t affect pension negotiations and won’t succeed at the ballot box. He predicted it will eat up Republican resources without helping them win any legislative races.
“Attacking people’s families seldom does anybody any good,” Brown said.