Six House Democrats urge unity in letter to 19 members who won’t back Madigan as speaker

The members sent a letter to 19 Democrats who have said they won’t vote to back Michael Madigan as Illinois House Speaker. The letter is “an invitation to come together as a family,” it reads in part.

SHARE Six House Democrats urge unity in letter to 19 members who won’t back Madigan as speaker
The Illinois House of Representatives in 2016.

The Illinois House of Representatives.

AP file

Six House Democrats have sent a letter to colleagues who’ve said they won’t vote for Speaker Michael Madigan to retain that position, urging them to “come together as a family” as they grapple with the question of who will lead them during the next General Assembly.

“Commonwealth Edison’s deferred prosecution agreement and subsequent indictments have understandably caused many of us to consider the future of our Caucus, who should lead us, and the type of transition process we all wish would occur in the coming months,” the two-page letter reads in part.

“This letter isn’t meant to persuade you to question your decision, rather it is an invitation to come together as a family and show our opposition that we’re better than they assume,” the letter continues in part. “That we, the House Democratic Caucus, can once again unite for a common purpose. That we are more concerned about the collective fate of our state than our individual elections.”

While the six signees — and most House Democrats — don’t agree with the 19 members who’ve announced they won’t vote for speaker, “your personal process in reaching your decision deserves respect and recognition, both individually and collectively.”

One of those signing the letter, Rep. Michael Zalewski, D-Riverside, said the vote for speaker — and the start of session in January — are “fast approaching” and the group of legislators “wanted to start a conversation.”

“We’ve got to start trying to operate as a caucus. That’s what we’re trying to accomplish here,” Zalewski said. “It really is not a letter designed to convince them to just sort of surrender and vote for the speaker. … We respect those positions, we talk about what the future looks like in [the letter] and it is not a pro-Madigan effort in the way that it’s going to be interpreted.”

Zalewski said the caucus is in a “unique position” now that its leadership is in question.

That uncertain position makes conversations around the state’s budget woes, redistricting, ethics reform and clean energy measures harder to navigate without a clear leader, Zalewski said.

The letter was first reported by WBEZ-FM (91.5).

Rep. Will Guzzardi, D-Chicago, one of the 19, said the group is still discussing their response, but had no other comment. Others in the group did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Some of those 19 made their decision known after ComEd was charged in a bribery scheme in July. That federal charge, and the deferred prosecution agreement stemming from it, prompted a special House legislative probe of Madigan’s dealings with the utility company.

Others — including a member of the chamber’s party leadership — followed suit after the indictment of Michael McClain, a close confidant of Madigan’s, and three others in a November filing that shows top employees at ComEd attempting to influence and reward Madigan by arranging for his associates and allies to get jobs, contracts and money for doing little or no work.

If all 19 reps hold to their statements, Madigan, who has not been charged with any wrongdoing, is six votes short of the 60 needed to remain speaker.

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