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Doubek: Why does nobody challenge Madigan to be Speaker?

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A couple of friends have commented recently about how astonished they are that U.S. House Democrats retained Nancy Pelosi as their leader after they underperformed in the November election.

Isn’t it odd, I’ve been thinking to myself, that no one ever makes that sort of comment about Mike Madigan, the Illinois House Speaker and, after all, chair of the Illinois Democratic Party?

It is, after all, a legitimate question:

  • Madigan and the Democrats lost four seats.
  • He’s truly not had a working supermajority even though he had the numbers the past four years.
  • He’s been unable to pass his own millionaire’s tax, despite repeated efforts.
  • He’s been unable, or unwilling, to pass a balanced budget for several years now.
  • And what are the Democrats for? What’s their vision? Their plan?


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There actually have been rumors and some reports that a Democratic alternative or two to Madigan will be offered up when lawmakers reconvene for the 100th General Assembly Jan. 11.

One of the names bandied about is state Rep. Elaine Nekritz of Northbrook. After all, Rauner likes to offer her up as his only example of someone he claims once agreed with him about something, though no journalists ever witnessed this.

So is Nekritz, Madigan’s assistant majority leader, going to run for Speaker? Uh, no.

For the record, I asked her and she answered, “I am not considering running for Speaker. If the Republicans choose to nominate me, it will be another of their political games that is a distraction from our effort to resolve the state’s budget impasse.”

Other names have been mentioned but no one should expect Speaker-for-Life Madigan to fall by the wayside. He’s still a master tactician and a masterful fundraiser and, in case you just crawled out from your bomb shelter, he’s still doing a pretty good job of stymying Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner at every turn. Some Democrats eagerly will tell you that’s what they’re for and nothing is more important. Madigan himself might be one of them.

Still, the fact that the topic of toppling Madigan even is occurring says something. It says there are Democrats who don’t like the way things are being handled. There are Democrats, more and more of them, who are feeling their own pressure and those of their constituents to stop the budget impasse insanity.

And, most importantly, there are Democrats who are willing to talk to Madigan about their concerns and who are planning to do something about it or to share how their constituents and other Illinoisans can keep the pressure building for a compromise.

One of those Democrats is state Rep. Kelly Cassidy, a north side Chicago Democrat who’s been in office since 2011.

“He and I had a very respectful conversation about my concerns, which was an extension of my conversation in the spring when I didn’t vote for the budget. I do feel like we’re doing the same thing over and over and over again,” Cassidy told me recently.

“I’m hopeful we’ll see some tactical changes, but what those are I don’t know. He listened. People say to me, ‘Oh you’re so brave to go speak with him. It’s not about bravery. It’s about doing my job. He was respectful and listened to what I had to say and acknowledged the validity of what I had to say and, you know, that’s all you can ask for.”

State Rep. Will Guzzardi, a Chicago Democrat who defeated a Machine candidate in 2015, also talked to Madigan about the need to present an alternative vision to Rauner’s.

“We didn’t tell people what our plans were and we lost,” Guzzardi said. “We just keep saying ‘The other guy’s scary. The other guy’s dangerous.’ The trouble with that argument is we look like defenders of the status quo.”

Guzzardi said he intends to get to work with his colleagues on presenting a traditional, liberal Democratic vision for Illinois that includes creating more jobs, creating jobs that pay enough to support a family, supporting and improving education and taxing Illinois corporations that pay nothing now.

“We’re all sort of doing some introspection as a result of November and I think that’s a good thing,” he added. “We’ve been playing defense the last few years.”

One or two Democrats does not a revolution make, of course, but there was enough internal Democratic caucus pressure on Madigan last spring to get a trickle of funding to the state’s colleges.

“I do believe there is some of that ‘the man, the myth, the mystery,’” Cassidy said. “There’s this whole inflated concept of who he really is and you know he’s also just a guy.”

Just a guy who serves at the pleasure of his caucus. And when enough of them feel threatened or are unhappy, eventually, the guy responds.

Madeleine Doubek is publisher of Reboot Illinois.

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