Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan generally faces no opposition — or a symbolic challenge at best — in rounding up the votes to hold his record-setting tenure as speaker in Springfield, but a growing number of Democratic women are lining up to take him on.
State Rep. Ann Williams is the latest to say she is considering running for speaker when the newly elected General Assembly convenes next week.
If Williams makes the run, the North Side Democrat would join House Democratic Caucus Chair Kathleen Willis, who has thrown her hat in the race, and state Rep. Stephanie Kifowit, D-Oswego, who announced that she’s seeking the House’s top leadership post back in October.
Spokespeople for Madigan did not confirm that he will appear Wednesday before the House Women’s Caucus to make the pitch for another term, but, if he does, he could find that caucus to be a less receptive audience than the House Black Caucus, which endorsed Madigan last month after its candidate forum.
Democratic women have been the most vocal in their criticism of the powerful Southwest Side Democrat. Of the 19 members who’ve said they will not vote for Madigan to remain speaker, 13 are women.
Charlie Wheeler, a professor emeritus at the University of Illinois at Springfield who reported on Madigan for more than two decades, said he suspects part of the reason why there are more women speaking out against the speaker is because they’re younger, and further to the left, than Madigan.
“I think they’re a lot more progressive, by and large, than what Madigan actually would be — or what his inclination would be,” said Wheeler, a former Sun-Times reporter. “I think he was taken by surprise by all the ‘#MeToo’ stuff. He was not anticipating that.”
Madigan, who also serves as chairman of the state Democratic Party, came under fire in 2018 for his handling of a string of sexual harassment allegations against members of his political organization.
Then last year, a federal investigation further complicated his path to another term as speaker, a position he’s held for all but two years since 1983 — longer than any other statehouse speaker in the nation.
Madigan, 78, has not been charged with any crime and denies any wrongdoing, but a series of explosive federal court filings have implicated him in an alleged bribery scheme in which ComEd is accused of sending $1.3 million to Madigan’s associates for doing little or no work for the utility. Four allies of the speaker were indicted in November.
Wheeler doubts that Madigan will receive as warm a welcome as he did when he appeared before the Black and Latino caucuses to make a pitch for another term as speaker because more members of the women’s caucus have come out publicly against him.
That includes Willis, Kifowit and Williams.
Williams responded to a request for comment on Tuesday with a text saying she’s reaching out to colleagues about running for speaker, but has not issued a public statement yet about whether or not she will run.
She did not respond to a follow-up question about whether or not she intends to appear before the House women’s caucus forum for speaker candidates Wednesday afternoon.
That forum will be the third for candidates interested in the speaker position. The Black and Latino caucuses hosted their forums to hear from candidates last month.
Willis said she’ll be at the forum on Wednesday and confirmed that she’s thrown her hat in the ring. The political blog CapitolFax first reported that she’ll take on Madigan for the speakership.
Willis was the first — and, so far, the only — member of the House’s Democratic leadership to say that she will not vote for Madigan to remain in the leadership position.
She did not respond to a request for further comment on her decision to run for the House’s top spot.
Kifowit, Williams and Willis were among the 19 House members who have said they will not vote for Madigan. Assuming none of the 19 decide otherwise, Madigan will be six votes shy of the 60 votes needed to continue in the leadership role he’s held for nearly four decades.
Besides the three Democratic challengers, House Republican Leader Jim Durkin said last month he has 45 of the 60 votes required to become speaker, and he plans 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 Jan. 13, when new members are sworn in.