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Pritzker says Madigan must ‘answer every last question’ or resign — but leaves speaker decision to lawmakers

“Written statements and dodged investigatory hearings are not going to cut it,” Pritzker said. “If the speaker cannot commit to that level of transparency, then the time has come for him to resign as speaker.”

Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, left, in 2015; Gov. J.B. Pritzker, right, last week.
Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, left, addresses the City Club of Chicago in 2015; Gov. J.B. Pritzker, right, speaks at an event on the Northwest Side last week.
Rich Hein, Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times file

Days after an Election Night bruising, Gov. J.B. Pritzker answered with a simple ‘yes’ when asked whether Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan needed to go as state Democratic Party chair.

But four indictments and over two weeks later, the governor was less forceful Thursday in calling for Madigan to step down as House speaker.

“If Speaker Madigan wants to continue in a position of enormous public trust with such a serious ethical cloud hanging over his head then he has to, at the very least, be willing to stand in front of the press and the people and answer every last question to their satisfaction,” Pritzker said at his Thursday briefing on the coronavirus.

“Written statements and dodged investigatory hearings are not going to cut it,” Pritzker continued. “If the speaker cannot commit to that level of transparency, then the time has come for him to resign as speaker.”

Pritzker went on to say that state residents “do not deserve a political circus” on top of dealing with a pandemic that has upended lives and livelihoods, but he said it’s ultimately up to state lawmakers to decide who will lead them.

“I trust that they will think long and hard about the duties that they owe to the people that we all work for,” Pritzker said.

Two days after the November election, in response to a reporter’s question, the governor said that he agreed with U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin’s comments a day earlier that Democrats “paid a heavy price” for Madigan’s role at the top of the party.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks in the Pullman neighborhood in October.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks in the Pullman neighborhood in October.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times file

Asked to clarify if he agreed with Durbin that the party needed new leadership, the governor gave a terse, but emphatic, response.

“Yes,” he said.

Pritzker followed Durbin in calling for new leadership of the state’s Democratic Party after voters rejected Pritzker’s so-called “Fair Tax” amendment, which would’ve changed the state’s flat income tax structure to a graduated one.

Pritzker put the blame largely on Madigan, saying Republicans successfully used the politically damaged speaker to “hurt our ability to get things done.”

Madigan himself has not been charged with any crime and again professed his innocence on Thursday.

But a day after the indictment of four insiders with ties to Madigan, the number of Democratic House members declaring they don’t plan to vote for Madigan for speaker rose to 16 out of the 73 in the chamber.

On Wednesday, the feds charged Madigan’s longtime confidant Michael McClain and ex-ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore in a bribery scheme designed to “influence and reward” the powerful Southwest Side Democrat.

House Speaker Michael Madigan, with then Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie, speaks at an Illinois House committee in Chicago in 2017.
House Speaker Michael Madigan, with then Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie, speaks at an Illinois House committee in Chicago in 2017.
Rich Hein/Sun-Times file

John Hooker, a former ComEd lobbyist, and Jay Doherty, the former president of the City Club, who was accused of helping to funnel hundreds of thousands of dollars to three people linked to Madigan’s 13th Ward, were also named in the 50-page indictment.

Though not named in the indictment or charged with any crime, Madigan is unmistakably identified as “Public Official A” in the document.

In July, Madigan was implicated 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.

At the time of the alleged bribery, ComEd was seeking Madigan’s support for legislation worth more than $150 million to the power company.

Madigan has issued written statements but declined to explain his dealings with the utility company to a special House investigative committee created to look into any potential wrongdoing.

“If there was credible evidence that I had engaged in criminal misconduct, which I most certainly did not, I would be charged with a crime,” Madigan wrote in Thursday’s two-page statement. “But I have not, and with good reason because there is nothing wrong or illegal about making job recommendations, regardless of what people inside ComEd may have hoped to achieve from hiring some of the people who were recommended.”

Thursday evening, U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky said Democrats “would be better off” if Madigan stepped down.

Cook County Clerk Karen Yarbrough, who is a former Illinois House member, said she “would not support not supporting Madigan,” who she serves with on the state Democratic Party’s central committee.

“I just think he’s really good at what he does,” Yarbrough said. “I don’t know what this is — I’m going to watch like everybody else is going to watch.”