Former Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan has resigned the seat he’s held for the last 50 years effective Thursday.
Madigan went from being the longest-serving House Speaker in the nation to a mere state representative on Jan. 13 — the day he passed his Speaker’s gavel to Chris Welch, who makes history as Illinois’ first Black House Speaker.
That day also happened to mark five decades in the Illinois House for Madigan, who first went to Springfield as a protege of longtime Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley. As a young delegate to the 1970 constitutional convention, Madigan helped craft the document that defines the bounds of modern Illinois law.
“Fifty years ago, I decided to dedicate my life to public service,” Madigan said in a lengthy statement Thursday. “Simply put, I knew I wanted to make a difference in people’s lives. I believed then and still do today that it is our duty as public servants to improve the lives of the most vulnerable and help hardworking people build a good life.”
Madigan’s support for re-election as House Speaker began to falter last summer, and continued to weaken into the fall as a federal investigation closed in on Madigan’s inner circle. Prosecutors allege the former speaker benefitted from a years-long bribery scheme orchestrated by electric company Commonwealth Edison.
Madigan has not been charged, but House Democrats — especially progressive and suburban women — were the first to publicly say they would not support him for another term as Speaker after prosecutors revealed the broad outlines of the bribery scheme in mid-July.
Subsequent indictments to those involved in the scheme, including a close friend and confidant of Madigan’s, came in November. The loss of support culminated in Madigan suspending his campaign for re-election as House Speaker during the legislature’s lame duck session in early January. Two days later, Madigan handed off his gavel to Welch and once again became a mere State Representative for the 22nd District.
Madigan highlighted progressive wins like passing same sex marriage two years before the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision effectively legalized it nationwide, increasing Illinois’ minimum wage — most recently in a ramp to $15 an hour beginning last year — and expanding access to abortions at a time when other states have clamped down.
But Madigan himself is not necessarily a progressive; many longtime observers note he was adept at listening to the needs of the House Democratic Caucus he led, and helping them find a way to pass legislation they wanted without risking political power.
Madigan — a lifelong resident of Chicago’s Southwest Side — worked to amass power through strategic relationships with labor unions and plaintiffs’ attorneys. Through those powerful entities, Madigan became a prolific fundraiser for Democratic candidates, especially for House Democrats, which in turn allowed the former speaker to consolidate more power as his caucus grew.
In 1998, Madigan took on another role as Chairman of the Democratic Party of Illinois, a job he intends to keep, according to a spokeswoman for the former speaker.
But Madigan’s growing power also attracted many critics over the years, which reached a fever pitch in 2020 after a disappointing Election Day for Democrats. Party leaders like U.S. Senators Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth, along with Pritzker, put that blame squarely on Madigan, whom Republicans had been able to tie to Democrats and Democratic causes like the governor’s signature graduated income tax.
The day after the tax amendment failed, Pritzker said Madigan should step down from his role as party chair. The governor did not repeat that sentiment on Thursday, but when asked about Madigan’s resignation at an unrelated event, he did say the looming cloud of federal investigation over Madigan’s inner circle has been a net negative for Illinois.
“You know, all of those kinds of accusations and investigations unfortunately reflect poorly on public service in general,” Pritzker said.
For the past decade, the Illinois Republican Party has recycled many variations of a theme calling Madigan corrupt. In 2013 when venture capitalist Bruce Rauner declared his run for governor, the Republican latched onto the Madigan messaging, which carried him through a win in the 2014 primaries and General Election, and landed the state in a two-year budget impasse.
Madigan had harsh words for the former governor in his statement Thursday.
“When were confronted with the Rauner administration and the interests of the wealthy, who sought to weaken unions and the labor movement in Illinois, we stood up for working people,” Madigan said. “Rauner went on to plunge our state into a budget crisis, nearly bankrupting social service agencies, eliminating funding for higher education, and racking up billions of dollars in state debt in the process. House Democrats stood as the last line of defense to protect our state from collapse.”
Rauner shot back at Madigan, reportedly telling NBC-5 Chicago reporter Mary Ann Ahern that Madigan’s resignation “One of best birthday presents I’ve ever had.” Thursday was Rauner’s 65th birthday.
Newly minted Illinois Republican Party Chair Don Tracy said Madigan’s legacy is “that of presiding over the decline of a once great state, ballooning pension liabilities by hundreds of billions of dollars, and the accumulation of historic political power that primarily benefited government insiders and special interests.”
House Republican Leader Jim Durkin (R-Western Springs) said Madigan’s resignation was the mark of a “new day” in Illinois.
“Rep. Madigan’s autocratic rule over the decades has not made Illinois a more prosperous nor competitive state,” Durkin said. “Our state is in shambles – financially, structurally and ethically. New ideas and sincere collaboration between the parties is the only pathway forward.”
But Madigan had words for those Republicans too.
“It’s no secret that I have been the target of vicious attacks by people who sought to diminish my many achievements lifting up the working people of Illinois,” Madigan said. “The fact is, my motivation for holding elected office has never wavered. I have been resolute in my dedication to public service and integrity, always acting in the interest of the people of Illinois.”
This story will be updated.