The end of Boss Madigan, the man who destroyed Illinois

Madigan graphic courtesy of the Illinois Policy Institute

By John Ruberry

Had this event not occurred on the same day President Donald J. Trump was impeached a second time, the failure of Michael Madigan to win a 19th term as speaker of the Illinois House would have made national news. The luck of the Irish was somehow with him on his worst day in his 52 years in politics.

There is much to criticize with Madigan. While the one sentence summary of the Chicago Democrat’s career might be “Longest statehouse speaker tenure in American history,” it instead needs to be, “The man who destroyed Illinois.”

Here’s a graph created by the Illinois Policy Institute–which has been on the forefront of exposing Madigan to the masses for a decade–that shows the decline of Illinois’ credit rating. And the rating began its descent early in Madigan’s tenure as speaker. To be fair, it was Gov. Jim Thompson, a Republican, who in 1989 signed into law the annual compounded three-percent cost-of-living public pension raise for retired state employees, but that bill emerged from Madigan’s House. Nearly all state workers are members of public-sector unions, those unions have been an important cog for the Madigan Machine. Other GOP governors share some of the blame for the Illinois pension bomb. But for all but two years since 1983, Madigan was speaker and he had his hands on every budget since then. 

Illlinois’ credit rating now hovers slightly over junk status.

The Prairie State has lost population for seven straight years. People have wised up. After the 2020 reapportionment Illinois will once again lose a congressional district. Perhaps two.

Madigan’s political mentor was the first Mayor Daley, Richard J, the legendary boss of Chicago. Madigan was America’s last machine boss. As mayor Daley was also chairman of Cook County Democratic Party, since 1998 Madigan has been chairman of state party, a post that he, at least for now, retains. Like Daley, Madigan would reward his political supporters and their relatives with jobs, usually public-sector jobs. But recent scandals involving private-sector entities, including the Chicago area’s electrical utility, Commonwealth Edison, betrayed the burden of the pension bomb that is eating away at Illinois government. Allegedly ComEd was handing out jobs, as lowly as meter readers, to Madigan loyalists. The ComEd scandal has produced several indictments, including the company’s former CEO and some Madigan loyalists. A separate scandal centered around red-light cameras has bagged other Madigan cronies. These political brushfires, on top of allegations of sexual harrassment against a member of Madigan’s inner circle, finally made the Madigan name toxic. 

The result in 2020 was better-than expected results for the anemic Illinois Republican Party. Best of all, the so-called Fair Tax Amendment, would have replaced Illinois’ flat income tax with a graduated one, was resoundingly defeated. A majority of Illinoisans finally ascertained, as I quipped at the time, that if Illinois was given an unlimited budget, politicians here would still exceed it. 

Another sin against democracy committed by Madigan is gerrymandered legislative districts, unintended artwork that would make Jackson Pollock or Pablo Picasso proud. “The state’s legislative map looks like a Rorschach test on steroids,” Robert Reed wrote in 2019 for Chicago Magazine, “with districts of all squiggly sizes and shapes.” With a few exceptions, such as university towns, Republicans dominate downstate Illinois in gubernatorial and presidential races, but there are still plenty of central and Illinois Democratic members of the General Assembly. That is the power of Madigan’s gerrymandering. It also discourages challengers to the status quo; according to the Center Square, last year 44 percent of Illinois legislative races were uncontested. Why run? Because in most districts in Illinois the politicians choose their voters, not the other way around.

Illinoisans would have been better served if there was not a Madigan monoculture in power for years in Springfield.

Groups such as the Better Government Association of Illinois and the League of Women Voters have long called for a Fair Map Amendement, taking away the power of decennial legislative remapping away from the General Assembly and putting a non-partisan panel in charge of the task instead. Twice in the prior decade hundreds of thousands of signatures were collected to put such an amendment on the ballot for voters to decide the issue, twice a lawyer with ties to Madigan successfully sued to keep it off. Last year, for the first time ever, a state Supreme Court justice, Democrat Thomas Kilbride, who represented a downstate district, failed to win retention. His vote against the Fair Map Amendment was one of the issues that galvanized opposition from voters.

Illinois’ Democratic governor, J.B. Pritzker, finally the state’s most powerful politician now that Madigan is no longer speaker, has vowed only to sign only a fair map into law. 

Don’t hold your breath on that one.

Madigan’s successor is Chris Welch, a suburban Chicagoan who was once a member of the Madigan Machine. He’ll be the Land of Lincoln’s first black speaker. But there is already a cloud over him. In 2002 he allegedly slammed the head of his girfriend repeatedly on to a kitchen countertop. Eight years later another woman claimed that she lost her job at a high school because Welch, then a school board president, broke up with her. 

Still there is reason to have at least a glimmer for hope in Illinois. But barring a change in federal law that would allow states to declare bankruptcy, Illinois will remain in its financial sewer for many years. A different amendment to the Illinois constitution, one that will allow pension reform and remove the pension guarantee clause, is desperetely needed. 

John Ruberry regularly blogs in Illinois at Marathon Pundit.

Illinois Democrats may finally eject Boss Madigan

By John Ruberry

I can’t track down the exact quote from Hunter S. Thompson about the end of Richard M. Nixon’s presidency, but the self-described gonzo journalist viewed it something along the lines of a football cheap-shot artist got felled by his own weapon, the dirty hit. Not that Thompson, a huge football fan like Nixon, favored dirty hits, but he delighted in his mental image of Nixon helplessly departing public life, like an NFL goon being wheeled off the playing field in a stretcher, never to return. 

We may be nearing that ignominious point with Boss Michael Madigan of Chicago. 

Good.

A refresher for those of you who are not from Illinois. For all but two years Madigan, 78, has been speaker of the Illinois state house since 1983, a national record for state legislative leadership. He’s been chairman of the state Democratic Party since 1998. Madigan has been a Chicago Democrat ward committeman since 1969. He’s been a member of the Illinois General Assembly since 1971. Hey, Madigan even managed, at great effort, to get his daughter, Lisa, elected Illinois attorney general in 2002. She was reelected three times.

Fox Chicago’s longtime political reporter, Mike Flannery, gained the scorn of other reporters when he half-jokingly asked Madigan, in one of his rare press conferences, if Illinois politicans should be limited to half a century in public office. The Boss abruptly ended the presser.

Madigan is America’s last political machine boss. And Madigan is, as I’ve noted before, the Pablo Picasso of gerrymanderers. Madigan’s maps aren’t pretty, but they achieve his goal, electing as many Democrats to Congress and the General Assembly who are beholden to the Boss as possible. Yep, beholden to Madigan–not the Democrat Party. Unloyal Democrats, in the manner of that classic Twilight Zone episode, find themselves drawn by Madigan into the empty political cornfield if they cross the Boss.

Federal investigators, led by US District Attorney John R. Lausch, have been chipping away at the Madigan machine for the last three years. I wrote about that here, here, and here. Last month the feds indicted lobbyist, former state representative, and close Madigan confidante Michael McClain on bribery and other charges. One of McClain’s biggest clients was Commonwealth Edison, the Exelon-owned electrical utility. It’s alleged that Madigan, who has not been charged and vows he is not involved in any criminal acttivity, used the utility, in exchange for legislation favorable to ComEd, to hand out jobs to members of his political organization. Also indicted for were some former top ComEd officers, including its onetime CEO. 

The cheap shot, in Madigan’s opinion, that leads to criminal charges, may still come, if someone rats the Boss of Illinois out. But Madigan, who reportedly doesn’t use a cell phone or email, will be a tough old tree to fell. Besides, he has a lot of money in his political warchest and his still has many friends, particularly among minority politicians, who of course enjoy being funnels for jobs for their cronies and constituents.

Still, according to multiple media reports there currently are enough votes in the state House to deny Madigan another term as speaker. The Blue Wave predicted by political prognostictors also was non-existant in Illinois, the weak state GOP managed to pick up a seat in the House. Worse for Democrats, the so-called Fair Tax Amendment, that would replace Illinois’ flat-rate income tax with graduated ones, was resoundingly defeated by voters. Corruption reports surrounding Madigan’s inner circle have been seen by political scribes as among the reasons the Fair Tax Amendment failed. Madigan has been a very poor steward of public monies–more on that in a bit. 

If Madigan loses the speakership he won’t be able to hold on to his party chairmanship for long. He needs both offices to remain on the balance bar. Madigan’s political idol, the first Richard Daley, who was mayor of Chicago and chairman of the Cook County Democratic Party. His yin needed the yang. Sadly, Madigan doesn’t have the public-finance chops of Boss Daley.

To use a football analogy again, the score in the game is 7-0 with Madigan trailing, but we’re early in the first quarter. Illinois has never, at least in my opinion, fully recovered from the Great Recession. The lockdowns of the state’s second-most powerful politician, Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker, have caused great damage to the Illinois ecomony. So have the two rounds of riots and looting in Chicago this year. Jobs are hard to come by here–and my guess is that Madigan still has some to hand out to the right friends. Don’t count him out.

Oh yeah, what about the money? Madigan has been at the table that drafted every Illinois budget since 1983, and probably earlier. And it was during that time that the fuse of Illinois’ public-pension bomb was lit. The phony Madigan budgets keep kicking the can down the round as Illinois’ severely underfunded public worker public pension plans continue to eat away at state prosperity. Illinois has had a backlog of billions in unpaid bills for more than a decade. The state hasn’t had a balanced budget–despite our constitution requiring one–since 2002. Coincidentally that was the last year there was a Republican majority in the state Senate. 

If only because of his fiscal malfeasance, Madigan needs to go. 

Speaking of going, many Illinoisans are doing just that. The Prairie State, as I’ve noted here at Da Tech Guy many times, has been losing residents since 2014.

Eject Madigan now.

John Ruberry, a Commonwealth Edison customer, reguarly blogs from the Chicago area at Marathon Pundit.