It’s time for the Illinois House Black Caucus to quit supporting Mike Madigan

Only one caucus member, Maurice West of Rockford, opposes Madigan for another term as speaker. The caucus has the power to broker a deal to install one of its own, if only members would step out of Madigan’s shadow.

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Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan speaks to reporters before walking into the governor’s office at the State Capitol in 2015. 

Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan speaks to reporters before walking into the governor’s office at the State Capitol in 2015.

Seth Perlman/AP file

Illinois State Rep. Maurice West is standing up.And standing alone.

I don’t know the Democratic state legislator from Rockford.He won’t return my messages.

I do know that West is the only, solitary member of the 22-member Illinois House Legislative Black Caucus who is notsupporting Mike Madigan’s bid to continue as Illinois House speaker.That makes West a treasured rarity for tumultuous political times.

West stands alone, but he stands tall.

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At a recent forum hosted by the Black Caucus, Madigan promised to support its agenda.He also committed to raising the state’s flat income tax if Gov. J.B. Pritzker wants him to, according to a report by Rachel Hinton, the Chicago Sun-Times’ intrepid political reporter.

On Wednesday, the caucus endorsed Madigan for re-election as speaker.The only other declared candidate is state Rep. Stephanie Kifowit, a Democrat from Oswego.

“After analysis, we believe our caucus is in a more advantageous position under the leadership of Speaker Madigan to deliver on our priorities,” the caucus’ statement read.

“We need a speaker that will provide strong, consistent leadership and support for the challenges ahead.”

Those “daunting” challenges include repairing the damage “to Black communities because of long standing systemic disinvestment, the challenges stemming from COVID-19, and of course the underlying reasons.”

Madigan’s muscle, the Black legislators say, is vital to theirambitious policy agenda, as they call for criminal justice and police reform, education and work force development, and health and economic access.

Madigan desperately needs the caucus.He is the prime target of the massive, ongoing federal investigation of Commonwealth Edison.Last month, prosecutorsindicted four of his associates on bribery charges.Madigan has vigorously denied all wrongdoing, but the investigation has cast a dark shadow over Springfield.

Westand 18 other Illinois House Democrats have declared they will not support Madigan for speaker when the Legislature votes on Jan. 13.

That would leave Madigan six votes short of the 60 he needs to stay in power.But with the Black Caucus in his corner, no one else can get to 60, either.

The caucus, which represents Black voters across the Chicago area and downstate, cut a deal to keep the 78-year-old white speaker in power for least for two more years, with the hope that Madigan will support an African American to replace him.

The caucus is not standing tall.

Instead, it is standing for just one more among decades of backroom deals that always leave us — African Americans — going begging, our priorities never prioritized.

Deals that, for decades, have been the ball-and-chain keeping Black lawmakers, and their constituents, captive to someone else’s agenda.

Madigan has been speaker for nearly 40 years because hedeployed his accumulated power to serve one goal: Staying in power.

Now, he stands on the precipice of a federal indictment.Now, he needs us.

This moment is like no other.The confluence of the police killing of George Floyd, the COVID-19 pandemic, and political upheaval from Washington to Springfield make this a singular time for unprecedented change.

The Black Caucus has the power, right now, to broker its own deal, to install one of their own as speaker.

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It’s time we advance our own agenda, on our own terms.We don’t need to do a backroom deal greased by the old white guys.

West knows that.Yet he is standing alone, probably under great pressure, and at tremendous political risk.

He knows that we don’t need Mike Madigan to save us.

It’s time to step up and step out of Madigan’s shadow. It’s time to save ourselves.

Laura Washington is a political analyst for ABC-7 Chicago. Follow her on Twitter @mediadervish

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