Speaker Madigan asks House Dems, are you with me or against me?
Madigan works the phones and insists ‘feedback is positive,’ ‘no plans to resign’
Speaker Michael Madigan took to the phones Thursday to conduct what amounted to a straw poll of House Democrats, asking whether they stand with him after a steadily growing trickle of Democratic calls for him to step down over a federal bombshell implicating him in a brazen bribery scheme.
“He just wanted to know if I was with him,” said West Side state Rep. La Shawn Ford. “And the point I made to him is that ‘If you say you’re innocent, then I’m with you.’”
Not everyone agrees with Ford. Two more House Democrats decided Thursday that it’s time for Madigan to go.
But the beleaguered Southwest Side powerhouse said he likes what he’s hearing in his telephone chats.
“The feedback is positive and demonstrates continued support for me and my leadership roles,” Madigan said late Thursday. “I have no plans to resign.”
The list of Democrats who want him to start making plans grew to six.
“The stakes are too high,” state Rep. Kelly Cassidy said in a statement Thursday. “Speaker Madigan must step down from his leadership roles, both in the House and in our party.”
State Rep. Stephanie Kifowit of Oswego sent Madigan a letter on Thursday, calling on him to resign.
“There comes a time to take a stand,” she told the Sun-Times. “And this is the time I decided to take a stand.”
Cassidy and Kifowit are the latest Democratic lawmakers — so far, all women from Chicago or the suburbs — to demand Madigan resign as speaker and chair of the Illinois Democratic Party after an explosive federal court filing implicated him last week in an alleged bribery scheme in which ComEd is accused of sending $1.3 million to Madigan’s associates for doing little or no work for the utility.
Madigan has not been charged with any crime and has denied any wrongdoing.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker and other Democrats have said Madigan should resign — if he is indicted or convicted — but numerous Republicans
and a growing list of Democrats say the time is now.
“Whether these investigations ultimately implicate him or continue to pick away at his inner circle, the damage is done,” Cassidy said.
Madigan, 78, has been a statehouse speaker for longer than anyone else in U.S. history. He’s been in the Illinois House since 1971 and held the speaker’s gavel for all but two years since 1983.
In a statement issued late Thursday, Madigan said he’s talked to many Democrats, but he’s not going anywhere.
“I understand that the last couple of weeks have been difficult for our caucus and party, and I have had many candid conversations with members of the Democratic caucus on this matter,” Madigan said.
“I have never made a legislative decision with improper motives and any claim otherwise is unfounded. I will continue to lead the effort to defeat Donald Trump, expand the Illinois congressional delegation and the majorities in the Illinois House and Senate.”
One House Democrat, who asked to remain anonymous, said the call he received from the legislative leader known as “The Velvet Hammer” was “very short and sweet.”
“He said ‘these other people feel a certain way, and I want to know where you stand, and thank you — that’s all basically,” the representative said.
Ford said he told the speaker “the moment you feel that you’re not [innocent], I’d like you to let me know, so that there can be a change of my support.”
Kifowit said her decision to call for Madigan’s resignation was not an easy one.
“There were some sleepless nights,” she said.
So far, four House Democrats and two Senate Democrats have called for Madigan to step down immediately.
Cassidy and Kifowit join state Representatives Terra Costa Howard of Glen Ellyn and Anne Stava-Murray of Naperville and state Senators Melinda Bush of Grayslake and Heather Steans of the North Side.
Pritzker has said he was “furious” about the revelations but has stopped short of calling for Madigan to quit, saying “if it turns out that these things are true, he’s going to have to resign.”
At a news conference in LaSalle County Thursday, Pritzker reiterated that he believes the speaker has an “enormous amount to answer for.”
“There are questions that the public needs to hear the answer to — I do, too,” Pritzker said. “I want to know those connections. I want to understand what it was the speaker was doing. He needs to answer these questions, and I think many of us have called for that.”
House Speaker Michael Madigan in Springfield in May during an extended session of the Illinois House of Representatives.
Rep. Stephanie Kifowit
Rep. Kelly Cassidy