Governors, mayors and legislators come and go. Speaker of the House Michael J. Madigan remains.
He’s ruled the Illinois House for all but two of the last 32 years and the political corpses of those who’ve crossed him pile up with regularity.
But one of his own, Democratic state Rep. Ken Dunkin, has recently strayed, and that appears to be frustrating the speaker.
Madigan needs every one of his 71 Democrats to show up and stay united if he is to thwart first-term Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner on their bigger battles.
But Dunkin refuses to play.
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Three times in the last couple of months, Dunkin has refused to follow the Speaker’s lead and let measures important to his party leader die on the House floor.
Madigan rarely speaks ill of any member of his caucus. So, at his last new conference, he brought in three non-lawmakers and let them bad mouth Dunkin.
Madigan is a disciplined operator and he expects adherence from his members.
Dunkin, on the other hand, marches to his own drummer — some say in a parade of one.
Years ago, he flipped the bird to the entire House when a bill he was sponsoring didn’t pass. Even in a chamber known for raucous debate, that’s out of line.
Madigan, on the other hand, comes from a world of discipline. He was reared by a strict father, attended Catholic schools and universities and was mentored by the late Mayor Richard J. Daley.
In an oral history released this year by the University of Illinois, this is how Madigan described his relationship with Daley:
“He was the commander. He would give his orders and give his directions. And this is an important point with me. It’s because there was a group of people like myself, about the same age, that came in as ward committeemen in the early seventies. There was Alderman [Ed] Burke, Ed Vrdolyak, Tom Hynes, Congressman [Bill] Lipinski, Alderman [Richard] Mel, and Ed Kelly.
“This was the group there that came along at about the same time, and if they were being honest with you, they would tell you that they would have trouble living under his methods. So they were duly elected to whatever office they held. After a while, they would think, “Well, I ought to be part of the decision-making.” So they would be troubled by that. … But with me, I had no trouble with that at all. That was because, to me, the mayor was just a carbon copy of my father.”
That speaks volumes about Madigan.
Madigan wants the members of his caucus to submit to his authority, much like he once yielded to Daley.
And now comes Dunkin.
Dunkin has taken to bypassing Madigan and negotiating directly with the governor.
For example, Rauner says Dunkin persuaded him to raise the eligibility requirement for families receiving child-care subsidies from 50 percent of the poverty level to 162 percent. In exchange, Dunkin agreed not to support an override that would have stripped governors from making such adjustments in the future.
It’s the kind of deal Madigan hates. But for Dunkin, it was an infusion of power.
Overnight, Dunkin became one of the legislature’s most influential members — at least for the moment.
So Madigan is now casting hard looks in Dunkin’s direction. But he also might want to look over his shoulder every now and then to make sure no one’s following Dunkin’s route of escape.
Scott Reeder is a columnist with Illinois News Network, a project of the Illinois Policy Institute.
Follow Scott Reeder on Twitter at: @scottreeder
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