Embattled House Speaker Mike Madigan (D-Chicago) is facing down what could be his final two days as Speaker of the Illinois House — a title he’s held for all but two years since 1983 — after a Sunday evening vote in a private House Democratic caucus meeting left him with only 51 tentative votes for a historic 19th term as speaker.
That figure is nine votes shy of the 60 Madigan needs to retain his title and all the power that goes with it. Already the nation’s longest-serving state House speaker, Madigan made it clear he had no intention of stepping aside in November even after a federal indictment nabbed four people alleged to have orchestrated a bribery scheme for Madigan’s benefit. Madigan has not been charged.
House Democrats face a Wednesday noon deadline to settle on a House Speaker as the 102nd General Assembly must be sworn in. According to House Rules, no legislative action can be taken until a speaker is seated, setting up the possibility of stalemate even as the state faces a host of challenges from the Coronavirus pandemic to a $4 billion budget hole.
But Madigan’s current challengers face a tough path to 60 votes too, with State Rep. Ann Williams (D-Chicago) garnering 18 votes Sunday evening and State Rep. Stephanie Kifowit (D-Oswego) getting three. State Rep. Kathleen Willis (D-Addison), who stunned colleagues in December by vowing to vote against Madigan for speaker despite being a member of his leadership team and announced her candidacy last week — dropped out of the race in the middle of the caucus meeting, lending her support to Williams.
After the meeting adjourned, Williams read from a prepared statement but declined to comment further to reporters.
“Today’s vote makes it clear that the House Democratic caucus is ready for a change in leadership,” Williams said. “I am gratified by the support of so many of my colleagues and I’m going to continue to work to earn the support of the rest and unify the caucus.”
Despite only receiving three votes, Kifowit vowed to stay in the race. The Oswego Democrat announced her challenge to Madigan in early October, long before federal indictments were filed against Madigan confidant Mike McClain and three other ComEd actors in the bribery scheme. In July, prosecutors roughly outlined the bribery scheme in a deferred prosecution against ComEd naming Madigan as “Public Official A” for which the scheme was organized. But in the months since, new details have emerged in the form of dozens of emails released to a House Special Investigating Committee and the subsequent indictments.
Willis became the 19th of a group of House Democrats publicly opposed to Madigan continuing as House Speaker, but since early December no one else has joined that group. However, Sunday evening’s vote added three to that tally, when State Rep. Michelle Mussman (D-Schaumburg) along with Reps.-elect Suzanne Ness (D-Crystal Lake) and Denyse Wang Stoneback (D-Skokie) reportedly voted against Madigan.
State Rep. Kelly Cassidy (D-Chicago), who has been one of Madigan’s most vocal critics for the past three years, voted present. Cassidy has reportedly been considering whether to throw her hat in the ring for speaker.
“I voted present because I just don’t think we’re there yet,” Cassidy told reporters after caucus adjourned Sunday night. “I don’t think we’re at a viable place yet.”
Women-led faction against Madigan
Cassidy took on Madigan in 2018, calling for an investigation into the handling of sexual harassment complaints within Madigan’s political organization. Former 13th Ward Democratic staffer Alaina Hampton claimed Madigan and his allies ignored her sexual harassment claims against Kevin Quinn, brother of Madigan-backed Chicago Ald. Marty Quinn (13).
Later that spring, Madigan’s chief of staff Tim Mapes, who also served as executive director of the Democratic Party of Illinois and Clerk of the Illinois House, resigned following public sexual harassment complaints from former Madigan staffer Sherri Garrett.
Cassidy was among the first House Democrats to call for Madigan’s resignation in the wake of the ComEd deferred prosecution agreement’s filing in July — if the allegations were true. Soon after, she took a more hard line position, calling for his resignation from both his role as House Speaker and Chair of the state Democratic party.
Other members, including Williams, followed in the days after, and the group that began building in the months between July and December was largely white suburban women. Men eventually joined, including State Rep. Maurice West (D-Rockford), the only member of the House Black Caucus.
Ahead of the first round vote for speaker on Sunday, the group of 19 legislators already public with their opposition to Madigan doubled down, issuing a statement that their position “has not changed.”
“We will not be supporting Michael J. Madigan for Speaker of the Illinois House at any stage of the voting process,” the statement read. “It is time for new Democratic leadership in the Illinois House.”
Thirteen separate groups of women’s organizations across Illinois on Sunday “strongly encourage[d]” Illinois House Democrats to choose a woman as the next House Speaker, the groups saying they were troubled by the argument that Madigan “is the only one running who can hold the caucus together, pass important legislation, and help re-elect his members.”
“This suggests that the female candidates that have announced do not share these same qualities,” the open letter said. “We do not believe that to be true. Further, we find that sexist school of thought to be one that has permeated the legislature in Springfield for decades.”
Another suburban woman, State Rep. Anne Stava-Murray (D-Naperville), has been a thorn in Madigan’s side since launching a long shot campaign in the long-held GOP district in 2018, running on a promise to vote against Madigan as House Speaker. Stava-Murray carried through with that promise after her surprise win, and on Sunday tore into Madigan during the private caucus meeting.
On Twitter, Stava-Murray confirmed she mentioned Madigan’s Catholic faith while going through a tense line of questioning, but insisted she was referring to “the influence the church has with him on issues over the decades,” noting she is also Catholic.
While she said she had an issue with the deal cut between Democrats and then-Gov. Bruce Rauner over a tax credit program for private schools in 2017 while brokering a larger bargain on school funding equity, Stava-Murray tweeted her concern was more about Madigan’s lack of leadership on racial equality.
“My much bigger criticism was that he hasn’t been a strong leader on undoing systemic racism for the past several decades,” Stava-Murray tweeted.
Stava-Murray’s heated exchange with the Speaker didn’t sit well with Black Caucus members in the room.
“The Black Caucus is fully capable of advocating for itself and Black issues,” State Rep. André Thapedi (D-Chicago) told NPR Illinois. “We don’t need anyone to do that for us.”
State Rep. Mary Flowers, the second-longest serving legislator behind Madigan, told reporters after the caucus meeting it was inappropriate for Stava-Murray to blame Madigan for not doing enough to end systemic racism.
“That was so out of place for her to put that on the Speaker,” Flowers said. “And I’m not making any excuses for him. But he didn’t bring racism into Springfield, where the worst race riot [of 1908] has been years ago.”
Black Caucus sticking with Madigan
In December, Black Caucus members endorsed Madigan for another term as House Speaker after a virtual session between Madigan and Kifowit, his only declared opponent at the time. The LatinX Caucus, which includes a few non-Latino members representing Latino neighborhoods, did the same before the New Year.
After Sunday’s session, Flowers was confident the Black Caucus could bring anti-Madigan members back into the fold.
“One day at a time,” Flowers said. “He has the majority of the votes. He has the talent. He has the know-how.”
Flowers cited instances where she said Madigan protected Black communities from actions by Republican Rauner and his predecessor, Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn, and said the state needed Madigan to shepherd through more important legislation — including the Black Caucus’ cadre of equity-focused bills running the gamut from police reform to education funding being pushed for completion by Wednesday — as well as the decennial legislative map-making this year, which Madigan has been in charge for three of the last four decades.
“Re-districting is so important,” Flowers said. “Negotiating with various entities across this state is heavy lifting, and I would not want to be driving with an inexperienced driver that may run this state further off the track.”
Black Caucus members on Sunday weren’t budging from their support of Madigan, leaving a tough path forward for Williams, and potentially any other candidate who may come forward without the support of the Black Caucus.
Leaving the Bank of Springfield Center where the House has been conducting its business on Sunday evening, State Rep. Rita Mayfield (D-Waukegan), a Black Caucus member, was asked by reporters what would happen if House Democrats can’t agree on a new Speaker or convince anti-Madigan votes to swing back.
“Oh, he’ll get to 60 votes,” Mayfield replied over her shoulder.