Madigan’s Majority: How the Speaker methodically outmaneuvered #MeToo to stay in power

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ILLINOIS (WCIA) — Critics of Michael Madigan have come and gone throughout the years, but the longest tenured House Speaker in American history appears poised to retain his gavel with nary a challenger.

“I think I’ll have the votes,” a confident Madigan told reporters two weeks ago ahead of an unofficial private vote to be held this Wednesday night. The official vote for Speaker is held during the beginning of the new legislative session in January. 

During the rough and tumble of the campaign season, some daring House Democrats called for the Speaker’s removal. Others, including incoming Governor-elect J.B. Pritzker, called for term limits on legislative leaders.

MADIGAN MEETS #METOO

Nine months ago, Madigan’s inner circle of trusted advisors, which was at the time predominately comprised of old white men, appeared to be crumbling under the weight of accusations about how often they ignored or committed acts of sexual harassment. One by one, under public pressure, the accused men were shown the door. Newspapers across the state wondered if Madigan had met his match or if perhaps it was ‘times up’ for his career. He had not and it was not. Instead, months later, many of the House members who applied much of the early pressure are meekly headed for the exits or quieting their critiques.

CRITICS CALL FOR CHANGE

“It is time to call on Speaker Madigan to step down as Speaker of the House,” Rep. Scott Drury (D-Highwood) thundered from the House floor back in February, “because he is not worthy of that position.”

Drury failed in his longshot primary bid for Attorney General and is on his way out of the House of Representatives.

“Madigan should immediately resign from his position as Chairman of the Democratic Party of Illinois,” a joint statement from Senator Daniel Biss (D-Evanston) and Representative Litesa Wallace (D-Rockford) declared during their primary gubernatorial campaign in February. Both members will forfeit their seat in the legislature after their election loss.

Rep. Kelly Cassidy (D-Chicago) was another vocal critic of Madigan during the heat of the sexual harassment scandals, and accused the Speaker of retaliating against her in return.

Now back in office, Cassidy no longer wishes to publicly tangle with the Speaker.

Rep. Will Guzzardi (D-Chicago) is another progressive Democrat who publicly came to the defense of women who said Madigan’s men harassed or retaliated against them.

“Absolutely unacceptable to try to smear Alaina [Hampton], and reeks of trying to deter others from coming forward,” Guzzardi tweeted in February.

“[Madigan ally Jack Hynes] shouldn’t have a job in politics, and neither should anyone who urged, suggested, or even hinted that he do this.”

Madigan’s spokesman reportedly denied any involvement in the alleged retaliation.

CRITICS CHANGE THEIR TUNE

During a recent interview on Capitol Connection, Wallace acknowledged Madigan was unlikely to face a challenge from within his own party.

“I think there are potentially individuals who would garner support, but in their own right,” she said, but added, “I don’t think there are people who would garner support in a fight against the Speaker.”

House Democrats Will Davis (D-Hazel Crest) and Art Turner (D-Chicago) are two other members who have privately expressed ambitions to become Speaker one day, but few in the party expect them to ever mount a challenge to Madigan while he’s still in office.

Rep. Carol Ammons (D-Urbana) may be the lone House Democrat with moxie enough for such a fight, but lacks broad enough support to mount one at the moment. Ammons declined to comment for this story.

After November’s election handed Madigan the most power he’s ever had, some of his critics started singing his praises.

“If we are being honest, we had a very difficult last four years and there is a lot to be said about the leadership that Michael Madigan brought,” Wallace explained. “We were able to overcome some really significant odds and hurdles under the Rauner administration and so I think that has to be respected. Because of that respect, I don’t believe there will be anyone that will go up against [Madigan].”

HOW MADIGAN OUTMANEUVERED #METOO

In February, the Speaker distanced himself from political operatives and longtime aides Shaw Decremer and Kevin Quinn. He promptly appointed a trio of women to a panel to combat sexual harassment and discrimination. 

In June, Madigan accepted the resignation of his Chief of Staff Tim Mapes and replaced him with Jessica Basham. Madigan also appointed former federal prosecutor and former Rauner administration watchdog Maggie Hickey to a special post and tasked her with investigating allegations of sexual harassment in the House of Representatives.

MADIGAN’S MESSAGING

In addition to making staffing changes and inviting harassment probes, Madigan spent much of the summer and fall months releasing a series of public statements that all shared a common theme.

“We must elevate all of the brilliant and courageous women in our communities,” a statement from Madigan said on Women’s Equality Day in August.

One month prior, Madigan’s spokesman had emailed a statement celebrating the anniversary of the Seneca Falls Convention, the influential first women’s rights convention.

“Determined persistence over generations from countless women is what has produced progress,” Madigan declared.

Also in July, during a Capitol Hill scuffle over the future of the Violence Against Women Act, Madigan released a statement that said “Here in Illinois, we are committed to responsibly and boldly addressing the crisis of violence against women.”

In September, women who work at McDonald’s went on strike to protest instances of sexual harassment at work.

“Abuse of power, discrimination, and harassment corrode our workplaces,” Madigan said in a voluntary statement. “I commend the women who have joined together to fight for what they have deserved all along—a workplace free of harassment and discrimination.”

Later that month, Madigan reported that the women he appointed to the sexual harassment panel had come forward and presented their new policies.

“A great number of the Panel’s recommendations are now in place within the Democratic Party of Illinois, including adopting a new zero tolerance policy for harassment of any kind, requiring mandatory training for staff and candidates receiving financial assistance, and hiring outside counsel to conduct independent investigations of any allegations,” Madigan’s statement read. “Additional steps to curb unacceptable behavior and make our party a welcoming place for all will continue to be considered and implemented going forward.”

Madigan also outlined his actions to remove six staffers, defended himself, and apologized in a September Chicago Tribune op-ed, writing in part, “I wish I had acted sooner.”

POLITICAL POSITIONING

In September, Madigan released another statement siding with Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, the woman who accused then-Judge Brett Kavanaugh of molesting her during a drunken high school party. With six weeks to go before Election Day and a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court hanging in the balance, the Speaker injected himself into the biggest news story in the nation, positioning himself as firmly opposed to President Trump, and in league with Democrats across the country who doubted the President’s pick.

“The allegations against Judge Kavanaugh are extremely serious,” Madigan said, “and his belligerent testimony failed to address the concerns of women and men across our country.”

Madigan applauded Blasey Ford again in October, and this time spoke out on behalf of victims.

“Women’s voices are powerful, but as Dr. Blasey Ford’s testimony to the Senate Judiciary showed, it is still too difficult for victims to come forward,” his spokesman wrote in an email.

On Election Night, another email from Madigan’s office celebrated “a historic number of women stepping forward to lead.”

Madigan’s steady stream of consistent messages have all but drowned out, if not entirely silenced his progressive challengers.

PACIFYING THE PROGRESSIVES

Rep. Guzzardi declined to say if he would vote for the Speaker to maintain his power.

“These conversations are still ongoing,” Guzzardi told WCIA. “This is a decision we are going to make in January. What’s important to me is that the Democratic caucus be aligned around these values that I think are so important, around these bread-and-butter household issues that Democrats should have to deliver on for folks to feel comfortable with us.”

Does Guzzardi believe Speaker Madigan can be the person to lead the party in that direction?

“I think that a lot of us, including those of us in the progressive wing of the party, we’re going to be having those conversations with the Speaker now and in the coming months to make sure that if he’s going to continue to be Speaker, he is going to prioritize these issues and put them at the forefront.”

Madigan has signaled he would support incoming Governor-elect J.B. Pritzker’s proposal to legalize recreational marijuana.

When asked if the Speaker would support raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, another one of Pritzker’s proposals, spokesman Steve Brown pointed to the Speaker’s ‘yes’ vote on Senate Bill 81 which the House sent to Governor Rauner during this election year. Predictably, Rauner vetoed the bill.

When Brown was asked if that vote indicates Madigan still supports raising the wage floor to $15 an hour, he replied, “I think a yes vote is a yes vote.”

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