Madigan Wants To Split Lincoln Library, But Why The Rush?

Nov 7, 2014

A wax model of Pres. Abraham Lincoln and his family greet visitors to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum.

Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan is reviving his end-of-session effort to make the Springfield-based Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum its own state agency. As first reported by the website Capitol Fax, the Speaker filed new legislation Thursday.

The last minute move by House Speaker Madigan in late May to separate the Library from the Historic Preservation Agency y seemingly came out of nowhere, and pretty much went nowhere. The plan passed the House, but went no further before the General Assembly adjourned.

But the high-profile effort kicked in gear a series of media revelations about festering power struggles at the Library, its foundation and the agency.

As a result, a panel with volunteers from each of those entities was formed to study how they do, and don't cooperate. It has given a former Smithsonian museum director a $25,000 contract to write a report, that could be passed on when the panel reports its findings to the legislature. That's supposed to happen by mid-January. A legislative hearing was also held on the matter early last month.

Madigan's spokesman, Steve Brown, says that meeting highlighted why this should be done.

Brown says the Library doesn't enjoy the prominence that it should, and Madigan's legislation is designed to show that being "buried" within the Historic Preservation Agency is not a good thing.

But the Historic Preservation Agency's Chris Wills says there is no apparent need to hurry to pass it during the upcoming veto and lame duck legislative sessions, as Madigan's measure would take effect next July.

"It's probably best to wait until those experts weigh in and give their educated, informed recommendations on how to go forward,and then the legislature, the governor, Illinois leaders can take action, and figure out what, if anything, needs to be done."

Wills says it could cost the Library an additional $2 million if its spun off on its own. He says the move would isolate Presidential Library from Illinois' other Lincoln sites, like his family home, law office and the Old State Capitol in Springfield.

Wills admits attendance is down from when the museum and library opened to much fanfare in 2004; but he says it has been steady in recent years.