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Korecki: Say goodbye to the new, open Mike Madigan

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Just when you thought Mike Madigan was coming around.

For weeks, the Democratic Illinois House speaker, who for years has kept a comfortable distance from reporters, has taken a new tack, standing before the media, answering question after question.

Self-interest, no doubt, drives his intentions, as he’s locked in a public relations battle with Gov. Bruce Rauner over who is to blame for our state’s budget impasse.

Still, it is a consistent offer of transparency from a leader who had long given the impression he had to answer to no one.

ANALYSIS

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For more than a month, Madigan has regularly met with the media in organized weekly news conferences. He takes questions, sometimes breaks new ground and sometimes even makes news.

That good will was building up and up — until last week.

A reporter dared to ask Madigan about an issue Rauner’s team was pushing. Could he explain how state lawmakers were guaranteed their pay and whether they received a raise when there was no budget in place?

“What’s there to explain?” Madigan shot back.

How we got to this point?

“I don’t think it’s a matter of a continuing appropriation, but I’m not going to spend a lot of time on the question,” Madigan said.

He didn’t spend any time on that question. He moved on.

So another reporter circled back, asking again, while mentioning that the governor’s office was “promoting” the issue.

“Well, they promote a lot of things,” Madigan said. “I’ve spoken to the question. I don’t plan to speak to it any further.”

Actually, he hadn’t spoken to the question. So that reporter tried again.

That hit a nerve.

“I said I don’t plan to speak to it any further, thank you very much,” Madigan scolded, taking on a tone of a parent telling a disciplined child to go back to his room.

In a snap, the good will Madigan had worked so carefully to build evaporated.

Madigan stepped right back into his perceived persona: the all-but-omnipotent leader who decided which questions were worthy of his answers.

At the same time, Rauner’s team was in full messaging mode, repeating its refrain that Madigan was the protector of the “political class,” not the middle class.

“Speaker Madigan and the legislators he controls will leave town without a responsible, balanced budget and without any reforms while taking a pay raise for themselves,” Rauner spokesman Lance Trover said in a news release. “That’s unfair to taxpayers and the people they represent.”

Rauner already had vetoed a pay raise that lawmakers voted into law in 2014. That same vote included a provision allowing lawmakers to be paid regardless of whether there is a budget in place.

Madigan did make clear that his members were not receiving per diem payments, mileage or any other reimbursements during the summer’s “continuous” session. That’s brought with it some attendance issues.

The Senate last week cast a vote, which triggered the reinstitution of provisions allowing members some daily pay and reimbursements for their travels to Springfield. Madigan said that was in part why he didn’t attempt to call a vote to override Rauner’s budget veto. He also faced attendance struggles.

Rauner had vowed not to call special sessions of the Legislature, saying they’re a waste of state money and time. Instead, Rauner said in May that legislative leaders — and not all members — should meet throughout the summer to hash out an agreement.

Of course, those were the days when Rauner still believed he could work out a deal with legislative leaders.

Remarks from Madigan last week suggested a deal could come without the governor.

Rauner might not know it, but he, too, hasn’t been allowed out of his room.

Follow Natasha Korecki on Twitter: @natashakorecki