Illinois seeks leadership, but familiar faces remain
It’s easy to criticize longevity in politics. “Career politician” is a pejorative for a reason. But there’s a big difference between persistent public service and a political machine.
Unfortunately, the latter haswon out in the Illinois General Assembly.
Senate President John Cullerton andHouse Speaker MikeMadigan have controlled their chambers for nearly 10 and 35 years, respectively. No other state has a duo who comes close to their total leadership tenure. The two Chicagoans have been members of the General Assembly for a combined 88 years.
Perhaps it’s understandable that Illinoisans complain about longstanding “Democrat rule” in the state legislature. But the real problem might be more about personnel than partisanship.
Amere six men have served as Illinois speaker of theHouse or Senate president since 1983, four Democrats and two Republicans. That means fresh ideas have been inwoefully short supply, with political priorities focused on pre- serving power rather than balancing a given budget, for example.
Itwould be tough to argue calcified leadership has done the state any favors. Alook at Illinois’ social services, finances, economic growth and high total tax burden is depressing. Still, Senate Democrats behind closed doors thisweek pledged their vote for Cullerton for president in 2019 and GOPmembers reaffirmed support for their minority leaders. Madigan likely will round upHouse Democrats theweek after Thanksgiving to ask for the same.
Why has this structure persisted?
For one, those leadership posts have become far too powerful.
In 1993, Republicans captured the Illinois Senate for the first time in 18 years. Partially to build a firewall against theMadigan-controlledHouse, they pioneered a few techniques to consolidate control in the hands of Senate President James “Pate” Philip. One was to overly empower the Rules Committee to the point where it could reliably suffocate pesky bills at the direction of leadership, no matter howpopular theywere.
Some of those rules then bled into theHouse, where Madigan has been happy to exploit and refine them in the more than 20 years since. He has remained the Teflon Don of Springfield for so many years in part due to his destruction of democracy in what now could only tenuously be called a legislative chamber.
Through theHouse rules, Madigan controls a preposterous number of lucrative committee chairmanships, who votes in various committees, when a bill will be called for a vote, and what bills even make it to a vote in the first place.
Gov.-elect J.B. Pritzker made a call on the campaign trail for term limits for legislative leaders. Unlike reforming the legislative rules, that doesn’t necessarily solve the power problem. But it’s something.
Will Pritzker actually push for such ameasure withMadigan in office? Not if hewants any of his legislative agenda to reach the governor’s desk. Therein lies the problem.
Notably, U.S. congressman and longtimeMadigan allyDan Lipinski said he would not backNancy Pelosi for speaker of the House until she agrees to changes in the legislative rules to empower rankand-file lawmakers.
EveryHouse Democrat in Springfield should be screaming for the same.