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Speaker strives to keep House caucus in step

Most willing to toe the line; some reluctant

Published: Wednesday, May 28, 2014 1:15 a.m. CDT

There’s an old Statehouse saying that House Speaker Michael Madigan cares mostly about two votes that each Democratic legislator makes: One to re-elect him speaker, the other for his chamber’s operating rules.

Some, like Rep. Elaine Nekritz, have gotten away with voting against Madigan’s rules. Nekritz explained to Madigan why she voted against them, and he was impressed with her thoughtfulness. She’s since moved up the ladder to become one of the House’s most hard-working members who carries some major legislation.

But nobody ever gets away with voting against Madigan for speaker.

There’s no question that Democrat Will Guzzardi ran a highly effective outsider campaign against state Rep. Toni Berrios, D-Chicago, earlier this year.

Guzzardi soundly defeated Rep. Berrios, the daughter of Joe Berrios, Cook County Democratic Party chairman, and along the way told the Chicago Tribune, “The monolithic structures of power in Springfield aren’t doing any good for anyone.”

It’s not difficult to discern whom he was talking about. The longest-serving House speaker in Illinois history is the very embodiment of a “monolithic structure of power.”

So, there have been some expectations that Guzzardi might not cast his vote for Michael Madigan’s re-election as speaker next January. He said last week that he hadn’t yet made up his mind.

“That’s something I intend to figure out when the vote comes up,” Guzzardi said. 

While voting against the speaker would likely score points back home in his independent-minded district, Guzzardi said it’s still a “tough decision” because there’s “a lot hinging on it.”

Guzzardi said he talked with Madigan’s chief of staff, Tim Mapes, after the primary. Mapes congratulated him and said that the speaker hoped to sit down with him after the general election. 

“We’ve got to figure out what sort of relationship we’re going to have,” Guzzardi said, adding: “I’m sure it’ll be a good one. I want to get stuff done.”

Those last two lines are probably the most important, and telling.

It’s a pretty decent bet that Guzzardi can have a good relationship with Madigan and get things done for his district only if he votes for Madigan.

I reached out to Guzzardi because Madigan’s Democratic Majority PAC is hosting a meet and greet event with the speaker’s top targeted candidates this month.

Rep. Jaime Andrade, D-Chicago, is the only incumbent on the list, but he was appointed to the seat. He’s attending despite the fact that he has a hugely Democratic district.

The list also includes Carol Ammons, a Democrat who defeated Madigan’s choice, Sam Rosenberg, in the Champaign County-area district currently represented by Democratic Rep. Naomi Jakobsson. Ammons used Madigan’s backing to bludgeon Rosenberg. Apparently, fences have been mended.

But there are a couple of big holes in the list of meet-and-greet attendees. Most notable is Guzzardi, who said he wasn’t invited to the event. 

Another absence worth noting is Mo Khan, who defeated the establishment’s pick in the 20th House District. Democrat Jerry Acciari was seen by some as a Democratic “lay down” candidate against Chicago’s only Republican state legislator, Rep. Michael McAuliffe. Acciari was backed by the city’s 41st Ward, which sent out fliers using Khan’s original first name of “Mohamed,” even though his legal and ballot name is “Mo.”

Khan ended up winning, but Madigan hasn’t yet expressed his support.

By the way, Rep. McAuliffe was one of the few Republicans who voted for Madigan’s resolution last week to put a minimum wage increase referendum on the November ballot. 

So, is Madigan dissing Guzzardi and Khan? Madigan’s spokesman said they weren’t invited because candidates who face no real opposition in November were left off the list.  

So, why, then, was Rep. Andrade invited? Andrade has a solidly Democratic district, after all. Well, Andrade is an appointed legislator, I was told, and that’s why he was invited.

That’s a bit of a stretch, but at least it shows that the Madigan folks aren’t publicly going out of their way to be hostile to Guzzardi.  But fully embracing him could be a problem during the spring session.

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