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National Editorial & Columnists

This might be Mike Madigan’s last hurrah

Emboldened by harassment issue, fellow Dems and crossover GOP’ers could elect a new House speaker

Jim Nowlan
Jim Nowlan

My Springfield insider friends say I am loony to think 2018 will be Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan’s last hurrah. Yet I think it will be. I array my arguments below; first a little history.

Democrat Mike Madigan has been representing the once-Irish Southwest Side of Chicago for half a century.

Madigan was elected a delegate to the Illinois Constitutional Convention in 1969 and then immediately moved to the state House. He has been there ever since, the last three decades as speaker.

I served with Mike back in his early days, during my brief two terms in the House. Mike was very quiet as a young lawmaker (he still is), learning his craft in support of his patron, Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley, the Boss.

I don’t recall Mike having ever been challenged in his renomination and election to the speakership by his fellow House Democrats. The rank-and-file appreciated his campaign cash and meekly feared his backlash should they challenge him.

Things are different now. For the past three years, Gov. Bruce Rauner has been softening up Mike. Rauner has used his millions to bombard Madigan with relentless, often vicious attacks via television, mailers, and even a movie about the speaker that appeared in commercial film houses.

The barrage has worked. Three years ago, my farmer friends at the back table in Connie’s Country Kitchen, next door to my office, had never heard of Madigan. They probably didn’t even know there was an office called “Speaker.”

Today, ask them about Illinois politics, and they immediately launch into their own attacks on that “g-d” Madigan, the root of all our problems.

And now Democrats are attacking Madigan, who is not only speaker but also chair of their own Illinois Democratic Party.

Four of the five Democratic candidates for governor are openly attacking Madigan. Unheard of.

The fifth candidate, billionaire J.B. Pritzker, is seen as “Madigan’s guy.” “J.B.” has, glaringly, refused to join in, or even mention Madigan in his appearances. If elected, he will be seen as Madigan’s lackey.

Worse, a credible candidate for Democratic nomination to the Illinois House, in a district just north of Chicago, has demanded that the Madigan-backed candidate return the $50,000 he has contributed to her campaign.

This challenger to Madigan’s candidate did a poll recently, reported by Rich Miller, the state’s leading political pundit, that found “70 percent expressed doubts about voting for a candidate who was backed by Madigan’s team.”

Miller talks about “the Madigan Tax,” the extra money and effort Democratic candidates must put into their races to offset the negatives of being linked to Madigan. The “tax” may become unbearable.

Madigan has recently been criticized for his handling of sexual harassment charges against one of his staffers. The criticisms add to Madigan’s problems.

When some of your own see you as a liability to their political careers, your time has come.

Madigan won’t, of course, step down from anything before the November election. His goal in life is to elect a big Democratic House majority — and defeat Bruce Rauner, his bete noire.

I am looking ahead to the December caucus of newly elected Democratic House members. At the caucus, members nominate one of their own to be elected speaker in January on the House floor.

They will nominate Madigan, of course. But, if 11 or so members, from the suburbs and downstate probably, have the gumption to withhold their support for Madigan, all hell could break loose.

It has happened before.

In the 1960s, Republican House members “crossed the aisle” to elect Democrat Paul Powell speaker. In 1975, Lee Daniels led eight GOP’ers across the aisle to vote for fellow DuPage County Democratic House member Bill Redmond. Redmond was elected speaker with a combination of Democratic and Republican votes.

The Republican caucus would be, I aver, delighted to cross en masse to vote for just about any Democrat other than Madigan for speaker. And some of the Democrats who voted for Madigan would sigh with relief as well, I’m sure.

This is where fortitude comes into politics. It takes the strength of character that could result in the loss of lifelong friends, the end of one’s promising career in politics. That may not sound like a big deal to readers, but it is.

I hope enough muster the fortitude.

I have nothing personal against Mike Madigan, but half a century is enough.

Note to readers: Jim Nowlan of Toulon can be reached at

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