By Jim Nowlan
Illinois Democratic House Speaker Mike Madigan is not the evil Darth Vader trumpeted by opponents’ ads—but he has shut down democracy in Illinois, and must go.
Mike Madigan is simply an old-fashioned Chicago pol who has had half a century in office to hone his skills and thus accrue unprecedented power.
In the Illinois legislature, absolutely no bill—not one—introduced by representatives of the people will ever be heard and voted upon without the express approval of Mike Madigan. Every bill, indeed every amendment to every bill, must first be approved by the small Madigan-controlled House Rules Committee.
Even if a back-bench lawmaker wanted to overrule the Rules Committee so as to afford a bill a hearing, such is impossible, as it takes unanimous consent(!) to break a bill loose from the Rules Committee.
Democracies also offer opportunities for voter participation through referendums on issues of major importance, such as on wildly popular matters such as term limits and independent redistricting of legislative boundaries.
Yet Madigan has blocked repeated efforts to give the people a vote on these issues.
And the Illinois Supreme Court—arguably a creature of Madigan and the regular Democratic Party of Illinois, which he chairs—has repeatedly blocked citizen efforts to put these issues on the ballot, where the people could decide the matters.The Illinois Supreme Court has had a Democratic majority since the early 1950s, because of court gerrymandering back then, which has never been altered. Arguably, all of the four Democrats on the seven-member state high court bench are creatures of the regular Democratic Party of Cook County.
For example, the justice in the central Illinois 3rd District has been there for 20 years courtesy of $1 million Madigan poured into the 1990 campaign of the previously unknown Democratic candidate, who was thus catapulted unexpectedly onto the high court.
Further, Justice Ann Burke is the wife of Chicago City Council lion Eddie Burke, who like Madigan has been in his office fully half a century. Burke chairs the judicial nominations committee of the Cook County Democratic Party. That is, he makes judges.
His wife, who went to law school mid-career, is by all accounts capable and caring. But do you really think she would be on the high court absent her husband, and how do you think she would vote on term limits?
Madigan is himself a poster child for the value of term limits. There is the old adage: We have term limits—they are called elections. Yet that is not so in the case of Madigan. He wields statewide power, has for decades. Yet voters statewide cannot vote on his re-election. That power resides with the 110,000 voters in his district, which he of course gerrymanders every 10 years to favor his re-election.
To ensure such, Madigan has probably bestowed one or more political patronage jobs—with Chicago, Cook County, the State of Illinois and state-blessed construction companies—on every family in his district that desires them.
Democracy is dead in Illinois.
It is my fervent wish that several House Democrats will stand up at the House Democratic Caucus in December to tell Madigan: Thanks, but half a century is more than enough, Mike. We support new leadership.
Because Madigan funds and manages the campaigns of many of his caucus members and otherwise cares for and feeds them, my insider friends tell me this idea is laughable.
Failing that, like all of us, Madigan, 77, will age out in the not too distant future.
In preparation for that day, I recommend the House Republican Caucus, a distinct minority, draft and publicize proposed new House rules. The rules should include that the sponsor of every bill be afforded a hearing on his and her legislative proposals, as was the case in my day in the House. That is, give power back to the people and their elected representatives. Long live democracy.