Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan reaches to shake hands with Gov. Bruce Rauner.

Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan in a word: Shrewd

SHARE Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan in a word: Shrewd
SHARE Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan in a word: Shrewd

SPRINGFIELD – One of the questions I get asked most often as an Illinois political reporter is: “What is Mike Madigan really like?”

The best answer I can give is if one were to look up the word “shrewd” in the dictionary, you’d likely see Mike Madigan staring back at you.

Last year, he called for cutting taxes on businesses. Now he’s calling for jacking up taxes on millionaires.


Just why he would treat one group of job creators different than another? Who knows?

But no one should be surprised.

I’ve been covering Madigan since 1987.

The one thing I’ve learned about him is that he values the accumulation of power over adherence to any particular principle or philosophy.

The only thing that counts at the end of the day for him is this question: Will it help more Democrats get elected to the Illinois General Assembly?

Policy is a secondary consideration for a man who has been in the Legislature longer than many of his fellow lawmakers have been alive.

In fact, no state legislative leader in the history of the United States has been in power longer than Michael J. Madigan.

Mike Madigan has become a wealthy man operating a law firm that appeals Cook County property tax assessments. Last year, he disclosed that he has earned more than $1 million a year in a job that is all about political connections.

But Madigan is not about the money.


He lives in a modest home on Chicago’s South Side, with a market value of less than a fourth of what he says he earns in a good year.

For lunch, every day he eats just an apple.

On most legislative session nights, he holds court at Saputo’s, a Mom and Pop Italian supper club a few blocks from the Capitol. He dines at the same table and at the same chair during each visit.

He dresses nicely, but not flashy. (Although Rod Blagojevich was more than a bit infatuated with Madigan’s neckties.)

In the 25 years I’ve covered him, I’ve never known him to outright lie. Every public utterance is said with calculation. Words are parsed. Meanings obscured. Pronouncements ambiguous.

But never have I heard him say a bald-faced lie.

Does he break the law? I’ve never seen evidence of it. And I don’t believe he would.

For decades, I’ve seen reporters trying to uncover criminal behavior on Madigan’s part.

They’ve failed.

But really, they’ve missed the point.

What’s far more interesting to me is what Madigan can do legally.

Madigan not only heads a legislative chamber and a law firm. He is the party boss for the Illinois Democratic Party. He’s raised tens of millions of dollars and poured them into the campaign coffers of state representative candidates across Illinois.

Once elected, they remember where the money came from.

But again, personal political convictions play a small part in what he asks of his members.

Just consider Madigan’s relationship with Blagojevich, during the six years Blagojevich was governor.

First Madigan hinted darkly about Blagojevich “improprieties.”

Then Madigan enthusiastically supported Blagojevich’s spending bills and measures to increase the power of the governorship.

And then he formed an alliance of Republican and Democrat lawmakers to thwart the governor’s legislative initiatives.

And next he co-chaired Blagojevich’s re-election campaign.

And finally he led the charge to impeach the governor.

Consistent? No.

Predictable? No.

Powerful? Yes.

Scott Reeder is a veteran statehouse reporter and a journalist with Illinois News Network, a project of the Illinois Policy Institute, where this column was posted. To subscribe to his political newsletter, go to:ILNEWS.ORG

Twitter: @scottreeder

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