Illi­nois’ rich­est gov­er­nor, meet the na­tion’s most pow­er­ful state law­maker

Daily Southtown (Sunday) - - OPINION - Austin Berg Austin Berg, an Illi­nois Pol­icy In­sti­tute writer, wrote this col­umn for Illi­nois News Net­work.

Illi­nois House Speaker Mike Madi­gan is about to see two things he’s never seen be­fore. And given he’s been in the State­house since 1971, that’s say­ing some­thing.

The first is the strength of his ma­jor­ity.

Democrats have never held more than 72 seats in the 118mem­ber Illi­nois House, with the high­wa­ter mark com­ing in 1991. The magic num­ber re­quired to put a con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment on the bal­lot and over­ride the gov­er­nor’s veto is 71 votes.

As of Nov. 8, House Democrats are in line for 73House seats in 2019, pos­si­bly 74— a new record. It will be Madi­gan’s largest ma­jor­ity ever.

The sec­ond is the type of per­son who will oc­cupy the gov­er­nor’s of­fice.

Madi­gan has­worked with two gov­er­nors of his own party since hewas first elected House speaker in 1983: Rod Blago­je­vich and Pat Quinn. These two men­were not shrewd power bro­kers, to say the least. Madi- gan could pin­ion both at will.

En­ter bil­lion­aire Gov.-elect J.B. Pritzker, who just spent more than $170 mil­lion to un­seat Gov. Bruce Rauner. That money is a to­tal game-changer for Madi­gan’s Demo­cratic Party, which has tra­di­tion­ally re­lied on gov­ern­ment­worker unions, trial lawyers and busi­ness in­ter­ests who need spe­cial fa­vors in or­der to fill its cof­fers.

So far, Madi­gan has brought Pritzker en­tirely into the fold. He knew Pritzker’s money would be a ma­jor boost for his House can­di­dates across the state.

But what hap­pens when Pritzker goes from can­di­date mode to man­ager mode? He will in­herit amas­sive bill back­log, a state that’s one notch above a junk credit rat­ing and a bud­get that’s al­ready out of balance by $2 bil­lion. He will not be able to raise enough rev­enue to cover al­ready-bloated spend­ing and new prom­ises in the short term. Some­thing’s got to give.

Gov­ern­ment unions, for ex­am­ple, might not get ev­ery­thing they want at ev­ery turn. These frac­tures will be where Pritzker’s money be­comes a dou­ble-edged sword for Madi­gan.

Those deep pock­ets could pro­vide the speaker with cov­er­ing fire to go against his tradi- tional power base. But Pritzker’s money could also of­fer Ma di­gan’ s House mem­bers the same cover should they dare to go against the speaker.

For the first time ever in Madi­gan’s speak­er­ship, Demo­cratic law­mak­ers could have a real choice to seek shel­ter else­where when a tough vote comes around.

One key fac­tor in all this is what Madi­gan wants be­yond power: legacy. It’s clearly on his mind.

The day after polls closed, Madi­gan re­leased an odd per­sonal state­ment un­der the Demo­cratic Party of Illi­nois let­ter­head. In it, he claims Re- pub­li­cans lost be­cause they tried to make the elec­tion a ref­er­en­dum on Madi­gan, but that strat­egy back­fired be­cause the speaker is ac­tu­ally “a cham­pion of smart eco­nomic and so­cial poli­cies” and has pro­vided “real, tan­gi­ble eco­nomic ben­e­fits to the peo­ple and fam­i­lies of this state.”

It’s com­pletely out of touch with re­al­ity. And Democrats knowthat.

Re­call that in 2012, a po­lit­i­cal ac­tion com­mit­tee closely linked to Madi­gan paid for mail­ers at­tack­ing … Madi­gan. The mail­ers were sent in sup­port of a Demo­cratic chal­lenger run­ning against in­cum­bent Re­pub­li­can state Rep. Skip Sa­viano. “A vote for Skip Sa­viano is a vote for Mike Madi­gan!” said one. “Demo­crat Speaker Mike Madi­gan calls the shots for Skip Sa­viano,” said an­other.

If vot­ers ac­tu­ally love the speaker, Se­nate Democrats must not have re­ceived the memo.

Three Demo­cratic Se­nate challengers ran a week’s worth of TV ads in Septem­ber call­ing for term lim­its on Madi­gan, be­fore the Chicago Fed­er­a­tion of La­bor de­manded they be taken down. Of those three challengers, one picked up a Re­pub­li­can seat and an­other is down just 12 votes with mail-in bal­lots left to be counted.

In Madi­gan’s own cham­ber, Demo­crat Anne Stava-Murray pulled off a shock­ing up­set in Chicago’s western sub­urbs against in­cum­bent Re­pub­li­can state Rep. David Olsen. Stava-Murray vowed to vote against Madi­gan for House speaker.

Madi­gan re­mains a prob­lem for the Demo­cratic Party brand in Illi­nois. His House mem­bers are well aware of that. But for now, they still need his pro­tec­tion.

Come in­au­gu­ra­tion in Jan­uary, that could change.


Gov.-elect J.B. Pritzker and Lt. Gov.-elect Ju­liana Strat­ton thank vot­ers at the Roo­sevelt Street Orange and Green Line sta­tion in Chicago on Nov. 7.


House Speaker Mike Madi­gan speaks in Au­gust 2017 at the an­nual Demo­cratic Chair­man’s Brunch in Spring­field.

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