Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan is the subject of a new movie by conservative critics. | Tina Sfondeles / Sun-Times

Scott Reeder: Madigan movie spells out what’s wrong in Illinois

SHARE Scott Reeder: Madigan movie spells out what’s wrong in Illinois
SHARE Scott Reeder: Madigan movie spells out what’s wrong in Illinois

In my 30 years in the news business, I’ve never written a movie review, but there is a first for everything and I have to tell you that “Madigan. Power. Privilege. Politics” is worth the watching.

The movie is geared toward casual political observers, ones who wonder how Illinois has become the fiscal train wreck it is today.

And the film answers that question with two words: Mike Madigan.

To be sure there are other folks to blame. Some are Republicans. Some are Democrats.


The film reminds us that governors come and go. But Madigan remains. He is the common denominator of the state’s fiscal woes.

Some folks have taken to criticizing the movie for its lack of “balance.” It’s a silly argument. Most well done documentaries have strong points of views.

When Ken Burns did his terrific series on the national parks, he didn’t turn a “balanced” view by interviewing miners, loggers and petroleum workers who would like to harvest some of the great wealth in those set-aside lands. Instead, he focused his film on the views of preservationists.

There is nothing “wrong” with that. And besides, anyone going to see a movie titled, “Madigan. Power. Privilege. Politics” has a pretty good idea it isn’t going to be a fawning profile.

The bulk of those interviewed in “Madigan” spoke frankly, often critically, of the state’s most powerful politician.

They spoke of legions of patronage workers that the longtime speaker of the Illinois House has at his disposal to campaign for his candidates. And they talk about the millions of dollars he has collected through his private law practice by exploiting Cook County’s property tax appeal system.

“Make no mistake, this was political propaganda, timed for release just before the Nov. 8 election,” Natasha Korecki of Politico writes.

No kidding, Natasha.

I believe it was the great folksinger Pete Seeger who once said, “A lullaby is a propaganda song and any three-year-old knows it.”

My point? Most films, songs, books, and, yes, newspapers columns promote a point of view.

There would be little need for the First Amendment if that were not the case.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should tell you I used to work for the Illinois Policy Institute, the sister organization of Illinois Policy Action, which put out the flick.

And I spent many years covering the Illinois General Assembly for several newspapers before that. So I know Illinois politics pretty well. And I didn’t detect any inaccuracies in the film.

And like many longtime political reporters, for me, the movie didn’t contain many surprises.

Yes, we know, no bill gets voted on in the Illinois House without Madigan’s say so. Old news.

And, hey, we know he makes beaucoup bucks as a private attorney working Cook County’s God-awful property tax system. Nothing new there.

You can almost hear the political pundits yawn.

And yes, he draws up the legislative maps so that Democrat lawmakers will always control the House and Madigan will always control them. Yeah, we get that. He’s all about power.

But, hey, this isn’t a movie written to please pontificating pundits or in-the-know insiders.

It’s written for the ordinary fella who wants to know why his property tax bill keeps going up or for the gal who wonders why election after election she never has a choice in legislative candidates.

And to that extent, “Madigan. Power. Privilege. Politics” does an excellent job.

The movie is well written and professionally produced and is showing in theaters across the state. Diana Rickert, a spokeswoman for Illinois Policy Action, tells me airtime has also been purchased for the 57-minute movie in a variety of Illinois television markets.

The website Michaelmadigan.com tells when and where it can be seen.

Whether you love or hate Madigan’s brand of politics, it’s a movie worth seeing.

Scott Reeder is a veteran Springfield-based journalist working on a book and podcast about a 1990 murder in Davenport, Iowa. 

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