Attorney General Lisa Madigan says she might run for governor of Illinois in 2014. She told a reporter at President Barack Obama’s inauguration she is “among those people” weighing the race.
If she does jump in, a different Madigan should jump out.
It will be in the best interest of the people of Illinois – and in the best interest of Lisa Madigan – that her father, Michael Madigan, step down as speaker of the Illinois House.
Lisa Madigan’s independence and credibility as a candidate – and more important, as governor – will depend on her father.
There’s a reason the Illinois Constitution is modeled on the federal government’s separation of powers. The governor serves as a check on the House and Senate, and the legislative branches serve as a check on the governor.
A healthy, natural tension exists between the legislative and executive branches.
The House and Senate approve the annual state budget.
The governor has the authority to accept, reject, or change that budget and send it back to the Legislature.
The governor holds the power to call the legislators to Springfield for special sessions. The speaker and president of the Senate have the power to hastily adjourn those sessions.
The House can impeach the governor, and the Senate can oust him or her. That, we’ve seen.
This relationship between executive and legislative branches in Illinois has bordered on dysfunction in recent years.
Legislative leaders had no trust in a disgraced governor, Rod Blagojevich.
Today the leaders have little confidence in Gov. Pat Quinn.
But tension between the two branches protects the citizens much, much better than coziness between the branches. Illinois leaders, unfortunately, have managed to come together often enough to sink the state into massive debt by borrowing, spending and promising money they didn’t have.
The risk here is that a father and daughter cannot, will not, serve as fundamental checks on each other.
Simply writing off conflict-of-interest concerns under “trust me” proclamations will not suffice.
There is real risk that politics would trump the effective functioning of the state during a campaign. If Lisa Madigan runs against fellow Democrat Quinn, Michael Madigan will be in the position of actively seeking to crush the incumbent – and his policy agenda – at the same time they attempt to co-manage the state. Every government action by Michael Madigan will be suspect: Is he putting Illinois first or Lisa first?
There are plenty of questions for Lisa Madigan, should she run for governor. Does she support an extension of the state income tax increase that was shepherded through the House by her father? Will she support pension reform, which has stalled in her father’s House?
But the key question will be the concentration of so much power in one family.
A decade ago, when then-state Sen. Lisa Madigan was elected attorney general, she was able to navigate questions about potential conflicts between her new role and her father’s role as speaker. She has from time to time signaled political independence, most notably when she stood firm against a heavily clouted bid to steer a casino to Rosemont amid questions about the influence of organized crime in the deal. She did well under pressure, and she prevailed; we remember that.
But the relationship of a governor and House speaker does not come down to the occasional disagreement. It’s a daily do-si-do. People must have confidence that these two leaders can serve as checks on each other.
Lisa Madigan’s campaign announcement – if she makes one – should include the addendum that her father plans to step aside.