Madigan suspends his bid for speaker — and ratchets up the suspense

Lawmakers were left to supply their own interpretation of the speaker’s words, hardly a first time for any of them. My interpretation? If House Democrats figure out how hard it is to put together a 60-vote majority and give up, they’re welcome to come crawling back to Madigan.

SHARE Madigan suspends his bid for speaker — and ratchets up the suspense
House Speaker Mike Madigan, D-Chicago, right, talks with state Rep. Rita Mayfield, D-Waukegan, left, during the lame-duck session for the Illinois House of Representatives held at the Bank of Springfield Center on Monday.

House Speaker Mike Madigan, D-Chicago, right, talks with state Rep. Rita Mayfield, D-Waukegan, left, during the lame-duck session for the Illinois House of Representatives held at the Bank of Springfield Center on Monday.

Justin L. Fowler/The State Journal-Register via AP

SPRINGFIELD — Just like that, Mike Madigan’s nearly four decades as speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives was over. Or was it?

Word that Madigan was abandoning his campaign for another term as presiding officer swept across the state Monday morning like a prairie fire whipped by gale force winds.

Except that when the official statement released by Madigan’s office followed minutes later, that’s not quite what he said.

Opinion bug

Opinion

As is his nature, Madigan left matters ambiguous by announcing he was suspending his candidacy for another term as speaker and inviting his fellow Democrats to “find someone, other than me” to put together the necessary 60 votes, while pointedly prefacing it by saying: “This is not a withdrawal.”

Lawmakers were left to supply their own interpretation of the speaker’s words, hardly a first time for any of them.

My interpretation? If House Democrats figure out how hard it is to put together a 60-vote majority and give up, they’re welcome to come crawling back to Madigan.

I don’t expect that to happen. Sure, House Democrats are going to have some difficulty agreeing on somebody else after taking their cues for so long from Madigan, who leaves no obvious heir apparent.

But not so much trouble that the 19 House Democrats whose opposition brought matters to this point will decide it was all a big mistake and abandon their quest for new leadership.

In other words, I really think it is over for Madigan, except that it can’t be over until he explicitly says it’s over — or until somebody else puts together the 60 votes.

House Republican Leader Jim Durkin of Western Springs responded to Madigan with a statement complaining about the speaker creating “uncertainty and misdirection.”

“For the sake of the institution, his caucus must demand that he be direct and honest about his intentions — in or out,” Durkin harrumphed.

House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, in 2019.

House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, in 2019.

Justin L. Fowler/The State Journal-Register file

Point taken, except that with their 73-45 numerical advantage, Democrats don’t much care what Durkin and his Republicans think.

Whether by design or not, the lingering ambiguity seemed to have the effect of squelching what otherwise would have been expected to become a mad scramble to replace Madigan.

In the hours immediately after his announcement, no other Democrats stepped forward to announce their own candidacies, although some were said to be putting out feelers.

That was expected to change when Democrats returned Monday evening to a closed-door caucus, just one night after their first test vote showed Madigan with just 51 House members in his corner.In that tally, Rep. Ann Williams of Chicago registered 18 votes, while Rep. Stephanie Kifowit of Oswego picked up three.

But the evening caucus produced no movement. No new candidates emerged, and no votes were taken.

With Madigan theoretically on the sideline, attention has turned to state Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch of Hillside, who is popular with many of his colleagues, although perhaps not as much with the leaders of the Madigan opposition forces.

State Rep. Stephanie A. Kifowit, left; state Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch, center, and state Rep. Ann Williams, right.

Potential candidates for speaker, left to right: State Rep. Stephanie A. Kifowit; state Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch; state Rep. Ann Williams.

Rich Hein; Rich Hein; Erin Brown/Sun-Times file.

When the Black Caucus met last month to decide which of its members to promote for leadership, Welch got the most votes, which many took as a signal that he could convince the group to back him for speaker if the opportunity arose.

And late Monday, a caucus source told my colleague, Rachel Hinton, that Welch was indeed their choice.

Some also believe that Madigan’s suspension puts Williams in a more advantageous position. Numerous women’s groups have called for the next speaker to be a woman.

Both Welch and Williams are regarded as pragmatic lawmakers with Welch perhaps having the stronger political chops and Williams being stronger on policy. Welch came to the House in 2013, Williams in 2011.

Kifowit wasn’t ready to give up either, reaching out to the Madigan loyalists to ask for support.

House members were convened at the Bank of Springfield Center, a bland local convention hall that is serving as a socially distanced substitute for the House chamber in the Capitol where Madigan has held sway for all but two years since 1983.

Democrats are expected to resume their deliberations on a new speaker Tuesday evening, hoping to come to an agreement before House members are sworn in Wednesday for the new term.

By then, maybe Madigan will let somebody know how long his campaign is suspended.

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