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Open Mike: Speaker Madigan could be asked to speak up about ComEd

A day before the special committee’s first meeting, Republicans said they will seek answers to the “legitimate, good-faith questions being asked” by their peers and the public. Gov. J.B. Pritzker also weighed in, saying “I think the speaker owes us all answers.”

State Rep. Tom Demmer, R-Dixon, left; State House Speaker Michael Madigan, left.
State Rep. Tom Demmer, R-Dixon, left, during a news conference on Wednesday; State House Speaker Michael Madigan, left, in 2015.
BlueRoomStream; Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Beleaguered Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan could soon be asked to publicly explain his dealings with ComEd.

At least that’s what Republicans were planning Wednesday on the eve of the first meeting of a special bipartisan legislative panel convened to explore the political and legal minefield.

“We have an admission of facts from Commonwealth Edison to the federal prosecutor’s office that have laid out a series of very concerning occurrences that happened,” state Rep. Tom Demmer, R-Dixon, said. “I think that as of right now, those facts are uncontested. We’d invite the speaker to contest those facts if he does not believe that those are accurate.”

A day before the Thursday meeting, Demmer said at a news conference that he and his GOP colleagues on the panel — Deanne Mazzochi of Westmont and Grant Wehrli of Naperville — will seek answers to the “legitimate, good-faith questions being asked” by their peers in the General Assembly and the public as part of the committee investigating any potential wrongdoing by Madigan.

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 in July; Republican state Rep. Grant Wehrli, right, in undated photo.
Neal Earley/Sun-Times; Provided.

And separately, Gov. J.B. Pritzker also weighed in, saying the speaker needs to speak up.

“It is true that the speaker needs to step up and answer these questions,” Pritzker said. “Really, there’s very — there’s almost nobody else that could. … I think the speaker owes us all answers.”

House rules dictate that a member who is named in a complaint has the right “to appear with counsel to present their side, and that certainly is going to be made available to the speaker,” Demmer said.

The committee was formed last week after House Republican Leader Jim Durkin and two other Republicans invoked the House rule for “disciplinary proceedings” against the powerful Southwest Side Democrat.

State House Republican Leader Jim Durkin talks with House Speaker Mike Madigan during the spring legislative session at the Bank of Springfield Center in Springfield in May.
State House Republican Leader Jim Durkin talks with House Speaker Mike Madigan during the spring legislative session at the Bank of Springfield Center in Springfield in May.
Ted Schurter/The State Journal-Register via AP

The rare move — which has only been triggered twice before this century — came more than a month after a deferred prosecution agreement for ComEd revealed what the GOP legislators deemed “a pattern of concerning behavior” in the speaker’s office.

If Madigan agrees to speak to the committee, Demmer said, one of the first questions they’d ask is whether or not he’d contest what ComEd allegedly told the feds. Though the committee can compel Madigan to appear before it, the three Democratic and three GOP members can’t make him talk.

“We hope that, because there’s been such an effort by so many people in both political parties to try to get to the bottom of this, that when we invite individuals who have information to testify that they’ll be willing to do so in an open, honest and transparent way,” Demmer said.

Madigan, 78, has not been charged with any crime and has denied any wrongdoing. But in July, he 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, ComEd was seeking Madigan’s support for legislation worth more than $150 million to the power company.

At an unrelated news conference in downstate Decatur on Wednesday, Pritzker said it’s “vital” that Madigan “speak up” — but the governor stopped short of saying the committee should use its subpoena power to get him to do so.

“If you read the deferred prosecution agreement, and if you’ve read things that have come out of the U.S. Attorney’s Office … [what] anybody would say to themselves is ‘there’s so much more here that we need to get answers to,’” Pritzker said, adding that there are “implications, but no explicit information” in the deferred prosecution document that could “give you the answers to the questions that I think most people would ask.”

Gov. J.B. Pritzker
Gov. J.B. Pritzker in 2019
Ashlee Rezin Garcia / Sun-Times file photo

The committee will be chaired by Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch, D-Hillside. Democratic Representatives Elizabeth Hernandez, of Cicero, and Natalie Manley, of Romeoville, round out the group serving on the committee. The Thursday meeting will likely include setting up a schedule for future meetings, as well as sending a letter to the U.S. Attorney’s office.

No witnesses are expected to be called on Thursday.

Madigan’s spokesman was not immediately available for comment. Madigan denounced the maneuver last week as a “political stunt” by Republicans seeking to create a “political circus.”

The call for such a legislative investigation has been invoked on two other occasions in the last two decades, following the arrest and indictment of former Reps. Derrick Smith and Luis Arroyo.

Arroyo stepped down not long after the committee was formed to look into allegations of wrongdoing on his part.

Then state Rep. Derrick Smith leaves the Dirksen Federal Building after being pronounced guilty on June 10, 2014.
Then state Rep. Derrick Smith leaves the Dirksen Federal Building after being pronounced guilty on June 10, 2014.
Al Podgorski/Sun-Times file

Smith was expelled by the Illinois House in 2012 after allegedly accepting a $7,000 cash bribe from an undercover FBI informant. The indicted West Side Democrat reclaimed his House seat in the election later that year, but he went on to lose the 2014 primary — despite having Madigan’s endorsement and financial backing.

The lame duck Smith was convicted of bribery and attempted extortion in June of 2014.

Asked before the 2014 Democratic primary why Madigan was supporting Smith, spokesman Steve Brown told the Sun-Times, “We support incumbents.”

Brown was asked if the indictment was a factor in Madigan’s decision.

“I believe — let me go back and check — oh, yeah, that’s right, I believe you are presumed innocent until proven guilty,” Brown said. “Isn’t that right?”