Democrats Review Options To Take Action Against Madigan After Patronage Scandal

ILLINOIS — Democrats could remove House Speaker Michael Madigan from his leadership positions in the wake of a patronage scandal involving ComEd, but so far, support appears to be lacking for definitive action.

However, some members of his own party have been looking for ways to hold him accountable, even though he hasn’t been charged with a crime.

While some Democrats have publicly said they want Madigan to step down from his leadership positions amid a patronage scandal, no action has been taken.

Madigan hasn’t been charged with a crime and has denied wrongdoing. He was labeled “Public Official A” in an ongoing patronage investigation involving ComEd. The utility entered a deferred prosecution agreement with federal prosecutors last month and agreed to pay $200 million in fines for its role in a bribery scheme benefiting Madigan associations in exchange for favorable legislation.

Members of Madigan’s own party he’s the chairman of have released statements that he should step down from leadership. Some say he should resign.

State Rep. Anne Stava Murray, D-Naperville, the only Democrat member of the House that didn’t support Madigan for speaker in 2019, said words can only do so much in the wake of the ComEd scandal.

“I think we need to pursue every available option when it comes to holding Speaker Madigan accountable for his actions,” she said. “It’s important to establish trust not just by speaking out against his actions but taking actions ourselves.”

University of Illinois Springfield politics professor Kent Redfield said there are several avenues the legislature could take to remove Madigan from his position, like getting an investigative committee to recommend expulsion, but there are pitfalls.

“Because all through that set of rules about how this process works are formal actions that have to be taken by the speaker of the House,” Redfield said.

He said there would need to be two-thirds of the House to suspend the rules to provide for an alternative actor such as the House Majority Leader to fill such a role to take certain actions like committee appointments if the Speaker is the one to be investigated by an investigative committee.

“It’s certainly not anything that’s comprehended by the rules of the House,” Redfield said. “You might end up with a lengthy court battle even if you got a special session called and even if you got that resolution agreed to.”

Madigan has crafted the House rules with the support of his Democratic members over many years. He’s been Speaker for all but two years since 1983. He’s been chairman of the Democratic party controlling the party purse since 1998.

State Rep. Stephanie Kifowit, D-Oswego, has stated publicly the speaker should step down.

“I think more people can come together and we can have frank conversations about that, we have had conversations and are looking at all options,” Kifowit said. “But at the end of the day, it’s a majority vote. The speaker has stated that he still has the majority vote, so, I don’t know what the outcome is going to be. But I have to sleep at night.”

Kifowit said it’s the right thing to speak up as she and some of her Democratic colleagues have done when leadership undermines the integrity of public services.

Another avenue to have some level of accountability outside of the judicial system is the Legislative Inspector General. Denise Rotheimer, a citizen whose abuse of power complaint several years ago against former state Sen. Ira Silverstein exposed a year’s long vacancy at the post, filed a complaint against Madigan after the reports from the ComEd scandal.

“I hope you are able to investigate this complaint and put this matter to rest because it is getting exhausting hearing from legislators call for Madigan’s resignation and using this opportunity to merely appease voters without taking any formal action that could actually support their claim against him,” Rotheimer told the Legislative Inspector General in an email.

Redfield said all of this could take a lot of time.

“If 79 members of the General Assembly want to go through the process of kicking the Speaker out of the legislature and they’d have to follow all of that process, that certainly would get the job done, there’d be a vacant seat in the speaker’s office,” Redfield said. “But this is territory nobody comprehended and it could be handled just by the Legislature, but the governor will have to get involved if you want the Legislature in session before the veto session and it may end up in the courts anyway, so it’s just one more wrinkle in a very strange situation.”

It is possible that Madigan could lose his election to the 22nd House District in November, but he doesn’t have a challenger. His speakership will also be up for consideration by the next House of Representatives when the 102nd Illinois General Assembly is seated in January.

The Center Square – Greg Bishop

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