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Madigan committee’s final ruling doesn’t sway dissenters to vote ‘yes’ for speaker

One by one, 19 members of the House have said they will not vote for Madigan — leaving him six votes shy of the 60 votes needed to continue in the leadership role he’s held for nearly four decades, barring any flip-flops in the group.

Former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan,  seen at the University Club of Chicago in 2015, was often seen as an impediment to reform during his record tenure in Springfield. But, in the first session without him, legislators still backed away from significantly toughening governmental ethics laws.
Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan, pictured at the University Club of Chicago in 2015.
Rich Hein/Sun-Times file photo

While the lawmaker committee investigating House Speaker Michael Madigan did not find wrongdoing on his part, his path to another term as speaker likely remains slim.

He’s still six votes short.

Charlie Wheeler, a professor emeritus at the University of Illinois at Springfield who reported on Madigan for more than two decades, said the only thing that could change the minds of some Democratic lawmakers would be for U.S. Attorney John Lausch to declare Madigan “spotless as a newborn babe.”

Since that isn’t going to happen, for a Democratic lawmaker, who has already publicly opposed Madigan as speaker, to now flip in his favor “would be political suicide,” Wheeler said.

Anyone who changes his or her mind is likely to face an opponent — or two — in their reelection bids, Wheeler said.

Nineteen members of the House have said they will not vote for Madigan — leaving him six votes shy of the 60 votes needed to continue in the leadership role he’s held for nearly four decades, barring any flip-flops.

So far, they’re holding firm.

Those who responded to requests for comment from the Chicago Sun-Times on Tuesday said the committee’s decision — and abrupt ending — weren’t enough to persuade them to jump ship.

“Not at all,” Rep. Jonathan Carroll, D-Northbrook, said in a text.

Others pointed to their past statements on the matter, including a Saturday letter sent in response to six of their colleagues who asked the group of 19 to “come together as a family” and discuss the future of the caucus.

In their response, the 19 members said in their joint letter “it is critical we come together as a caucus to address the enormous challenges facing our state . . . and we must restore the public trust” and “we are unified in our belief that our caucus needs new leadership . . .”

Still, their opposition might not be enough to stop Madigan from securing another term, said John Jackson, a visiting professor at the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute.

“There’s not a major opponent announced for the speakership,” Jackson said. “… There’s an old saying in politics ‘you can’t beat somebody with nobody.’ Michael Madigan is definitely a somebody, and while there are now 19 announced opponents to his being reelected, that obviously presents him with a problem, but on the other hand the opposition has to coalesce around a significant and viable candidate.”

And so far, no major, viable Democratic candidate has announced, Jackson said.

While Madigan isn’t as powerful as he’s ever been, “He’s certainly a formidable force and not yet likely to be mortally wounded and now most likely to be the speaker again, barring any longterm stalemate,” Jackson said.

Rep. Stephanie Kifowit, D-Oswego, has been the only Democrat to announce a formal challenge against Madigan for the position, though names of other Democrats have been floated.

Among the list are Majority Leader Greg Harris of Chicago, Deputy Majority Leader Jehan Gordon-Booth of Peoria, Assistant Majority Leaders Kelly Burke of Evergreen Park, Jay Hoffman of Swansea, Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch of Hillside and Rep. Kelly Cassidy of Chicago.

House Republican Leader Jim Durkin said earlier this month he has 45 of the 60 votes required to become speaker, and he said he planned to appeal to 15 “reform-minded” Democrats in an unlikely bid to get their support.

House members are set to vote on who will be speaker next month, when new members are sworn in.