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State senator joins select group of Democrats insisting Madigan give up speaker’s gavel now: ‘It is clearly time for a change’

While other Democrats have issued conditional calls for Madigan to resign only if charged or convicted, North Side state Sen. Heather Steans made no such qualification. “Serving as Speaker is not a right; it’s a privilege,” she said.

State Sen. Heather Steans, left, in 2018.; House Speaker Mike Madigan, right, in May
State Sen. Heather Steans, left, in 2018.; House Speaker Mike Madigan, right, in May
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times; Justin L. Fowler/The State Journal-Register via AP

And then there were three.

State Sen. Heather Steans added her name Tuesday to the very short list of Democratic state legislators calling on Michael Madigan to resign his speaker post immediately over the “sordid picture of bribery, influence peddling and insider-dealing” that federal prosecutors have outlined between ComEd and the Southwest Side political powerhouse.

While others in the Illinois Democratic Party chaired by Madigan have tiptoed around calls for him to resign — carefully adding the qualifier that he should do so only if the allegations are proved true — Steans said “not only does this [alleged ComEd scheme] undermine public trust in government, but it will cost Illinois ratepayers hundreds of millions of dollars.”

“It is clearly time for a change.”

“Some will argue that the Speaker is innocent until charges are filed and he’s proven guilty. But those are not the standards that should apply to his leadership role,” the North Side Democrat said. “Serving as Speaker is not a right; it’s a privilege. A leader’s actions must avoid even the perception of wrongdoing. Speaker Madigan repeatedly has violated that trust.”

Steans was a key Democratic force in the Illinois Senate behind the legalization of marijuana, among other pieces of legislation.

A spokeswoman for Madigan declined to comment on Steans’ statement. The longtime speaker has denied any wrongdoing. ComEd is accused of handing out jobs, contracts and money to Madigan allies in exchange for favorable legislation, but the speaker has not been charged with a crime.

Steans joined state Sen. Melinda Bush, D-Grayslake, who called on Madigan to step down from his speaker and party chair posts “effective immediately” when U.S. Attorney John Lausch laid out the case against the utility giant July 17.

Anne M. Stava-Murray, left; Melinda Bush, right
Then state House Democratic nominee Anne M. Stava-Murray, left, in 2018; Democratic state Sen. Melinda Bush, right, in 2016.
Rich Hein and Santiago Covarrubias/Sun-Times file

Since then, while numerous Republicans have called for the ouster of their longtime nemesis, only one Democrat in Madigan’s House chamber has called for his resignation without the caveat of a criminal charge or conviction: Naperville Rep. Anne Stava-Murray, the freshman state legislator who campaigned on a promise to vote against Madigan as speaker.

“We need him to resign. It harms our ability to get things done as legislators whether or not he’s guilty,” she said.

Stava-Murray was one of 12 members of the Illinois House Progressive Caucus who signed a statement last week that called the ComEd scheme an “unacceptable breach of the public trust” — but offered only a conditional call for Madigan’s resignation “if these allegations are true.”

House Speaker Mike Madigan listens to debate during an extended session of the Illinois House of Representatives in May.
House Speaker Mike Madigan listens to debate during an extended session of the Illinois House of Representatives at the Bank of Springfield Center in May.
Justin L. Fowler/The State Journal-Register via AP file

Other prominent Democrats from Gov. J.B. Pritzker to Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot have been similarly cautious in their verbal reprimands of Madigan.

Stava-Murray acknowledged her own stance was “slightly diluted” by the caucus statement, but said the ambiguity “made it easier” for others to sign on.

And she made it clear to the Sun-Times that she is not putting any conditions on her call for the speaker to surrender his gavel.

“I think there are more Democrats out there than we hear about that I think would be closer to my position — more than people realize,” she said.