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GOP legislators: Democrats should demand Springfield action to address ‘breach of trust in government’

And while Democrats did not remain silent about the GOP demands, they didn’t exactly embrace the call to hurry back to Springfield, either.

State House Speaker Mike Madigan, left, in Springfield in July; Republican state Rep. Grant Wehrli, right, in undated photo.
State House Speaker Mike Madigan, left, in Springfield last week; Republican state Rep. Grant Wehrli, right, in undated photo.
Neal Earley/Sun-Times; Provided.

SPRINGFIELD — Insisting that “silence is corruption,” a group of Republican legislators on Tuesday called on Democrats to convene a special legislative session to deal with ethics reform just days after ComEd was hit with a criminal case with explosive implications for state House Speaker Mike Madigan.

“To my colleagues on the other side of the aisle, you should be demanding that we get back into Springfield and address this,” state Rep. Grant Wehrli, R-Naperville, said. “We have a massive conflict — a breach of trust in government — and we need to address it.”

Joining Wehrli in the on-line news conference were fellow GOP Representatives Deanne Mazzochi of Elmhurst and Dan Ugaste of Geneva.

And while Democrats did not remain silent about the GOP demands, they didn’t exactly embrace the call to hurry back to Springfield, either.

State Senate President Don Harmon said the probe into ComEd will require “a legislative response” but the Oak Park Democrat stopped short of endorsing a special session.

“The admission of wrongdoing by ComEd is enormously troubling and will likely require a legislative response,” Harmon said in a statement. “I’m continuing to watch and gather more information from this unfolding federal investigation.”

Illinois Senate President Don Harmon, D- Oak Park, answers questions from senators in Springfield last year.
Illinois Senate President Don Harmon, D- Oak Park, answers questions from senators in Springfield in May.
BlueRoomStream

Jordan Abudayyeh, a spokeswoman for Gov. J.B. Pritzker, said in a statement that a state commission tasked with studying ethics reform “needs to finish its work and recommend a comprehensive package of effective reforms. ” But she did not say whether the governor is considering calling the Legislature back into session.

For weeks, Republicans have been insisting the Democratic governor make good on the promise he made in his State of the State address to tackle ethics reform. Those GOP calls got new energy last week after ComEd was charged in federal court with a brazen, years-long Chicago-style bribery scheme that implicated Madigan.

The Southwest Side Democrat faces no criminal charges himself, but the feds say ComEd sent $1.3 million to Madigan’s associates for doing little or no work for the utility at a time when ComEd was seeking the powerful Democratic leader’s support for legislation worth more than $150 million to the utility.

Madigan has been a frequent punching-bag for Republicans for years, but the latest revelations also prompted some Democrats, including Pritzker, to say that Madigan should resign if what federal prosecutors laid out in court documents are proved true. Madigan, through a spokesperson, has denied any wrongdoing.

Last week, just days before the ComEd case became public, Republican House Leader Jim Durkin called for the Legislature to return to Springfield to tackle ethics reform, prompting Madigan to respond by saying “I would suggest that the Illinois Republicans who want to pursue ethics reform go out to Washington, follow up on President Trump’s promise to drain the swamp.”

But Republicans said they aren’t buying the rebuffs or any excuses to delay taking legislative action.

They see no rationale for waiting for the Joint Commission on Ethics and Lobbying Reform to come up with a report. The newly created panel stopped meeting in March because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but Republicans argue that the General Assembly has proven it can meet when it convened in late May for a brief session to pass a budget and other measures.

House Speaker Michael Madigan listens to debate during a session of the Illinois House of Representatives at the Bank of Springfield Center in Springfield in May.
House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, listens to debate during a session of the Illinois House of Representatives at the Bank of Springfield Center in Springfield in May.
Pool photo by Justin L. Fowler/The State Journal-Register

“Why was a toll bridge in Will County or unionizing horse racing more important than ethics reform?” Ugaste asked, referring to bills that passed during the truncated session in May.

“Speaker Madigan has spent decades creating his Springfield machine. Madigan must go,” Mazzochi said. “Silence is corruption.”

The new ethics panel was created after a number of Democratic lawmakers were charged with federal corruption, prompting Pritzker to argue in his January State of the State speech “it’s no longer enough to sit idle while under-the-table deals, extortion, or bribery persist.”

Gov. JB Pritzker answers questions from the media during his daily briefing on the COVID-19 pandemic in Springfield in May.
Gov. JB Pritzker answers questions from the media during his daily briefing on the COVID-19 pandemic in Springfield in May.
Justin L. Fowler/The State Journal-Register via AP

A spokesman for Madigan did not respond to request to comment, but Madigan told reporters last week in Springfield that the Legislature will pass an ethics reform bill when it comes back into session, denying that reforms were ignored in May.

“It was on the table. It was under discussion. It continues to be under discussion,” Madigan said last week, days before the federal documents were made public. “It will be under discussion when we reconvene whenever we’re able to do that.”