The Sunday Read: Madigan’s tenure should be cautionary tale


Illinois state Rep. Michael Madigan lost his bid for what would have been 40 years in legislative leadership when Emanuel “Chris” Welch (D-Hillside) on Wednesday was voted in by his peers along party lines and became the first Black Speaker of the House in Illinois history.

(The Center Square) – Lost amid the national headlines of a second impeachment pf President Donald Trump last week was a transition of power at the state level that deserved barrels of ink and far more pixels – not only in Illinois, where it occurred, but across the country.

On his way to establishing a U.S. record for tenure by a legislative leader, Madigan, an old-school Chicago Democrat, ruled with one-sided leadership that, over 38 years, ran a once-proud state – unchecked – into irreparable financial ruin.

The Madigan story is a cautionary tale that should be written into U.S. history books to inform future generations about how absolute power corrupts absolutely.

A federal corruption probe into ComEd isolated Madigan as the dealmaker who traded patronage jobs for favorable legislation and rate increases to help the energy producer survive its struggling nuclear power plants. Two of his cronies, and two former ComEd executives have been indicted.

Madigan was a king who steamrolled the state’s solvency for the benefit of the cogs in his machine and to retain his power. His reign was ended only after Illinois House Democrats no longer could risk supporting him. And even then, Madigan hung around in contention to retain his role last week with 50 of the 60 supporters he needed for another turn at the wheel.

But, even here in Illinois, news of Madigan’s ouster from leadership barely registered with most people – and in some markets didn’t even make the front page of newspapers.

Madigan, who neither has a cell phone nor an email account, hasn’t been charged with a crime. A grand jury continues to investigate. If anyone benefited from the chaos wrought by COVID-19, it was Madigan, who shaved off about 70% of the legislative calendar in 2020 and kept the entire legislature at bay and off the job arguably to shield himself from public scrutiny.

We have raised generations of mopes who are barely equipped to rage against their washing machines let alone bad government.

Therein lies a fundamental problem that isn’t on its way to being repaired. We don’t teach civics in our public schools. Kids don’t know the difference between a state representative and a U.S. representative let alone know who represents the districts where they live. These same people grow up and become adults who complain about government but cannot connect the dots between government expansion and the fundamental reasons their tax burdens are twice the size of neighboring states.

His House rules called for him to unilaterally call the bills that were to be voted upon and none that he didn’t want. That made bipartisan legislation impossible and effectively neutralized the minority party Republicans for nearly four decades.

There are no term limits in Illinois. Madigan became chairman of the Democratic Party of Illinois and became not only the pivot in Springfield but the kingmaker who funded campaigns and sent a steady stream of lackeys there to do his bidding.

And Madigan did of plenty of taking, mostly from taxpayers who will feel the pain of his leadership long after our children’s children are eulogized by their children.

The Madigan Rules were akin to playing basketball against the Harlem Globetrotters with one exception: In basketball, the team that is scored upon, by rule, gets the ball and the chance to in-bound it after each basket. Here in Illinois, the game is make it, take it.  

The truth is that all government is local, and local government has far more influence on the lives of Americans than the federal government. Worse, state government is a murky mystery for far too many.

Under his leadership, the state’s finances cratered. Costs exploded. Billions of dollars were borrowed at crazy, near-junk rates. Pension systems were raided to pay for anything and everything except pensions. Estimates of the unfunded pension obligations created under his leadership range between $137 billion and $250 billion – a hole that may never be filled and continues to grow deeper despite tax increase after tax increase.

Some of that drama finally ended last week. But rest assured there will be decades of drama here still to come.

The Center Square has written more than 600 stories about Madigan over the past three years alone. Our reporters chronicled his unbalanced budgets, the #MeToo scandals that were unresolved by an inspector general (because he cleverly omitted having one and the claims expired), the gerrymandered maps that he drew, and a litany of other political shenanigans that would require a forest of trees to lay out in full.

Welch also praised Madigan’s tenure. 

When asked if his plans for his new role, the newly ordained Welch, whose committee passed on an opportunity to investigate Madigan in December, said that he’d, “possibly make a lot of changes.”

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After all, Illinois is still Illinois.

New Illinois House Speaker Emmanuel “Chris” Welch is the first Black speaker in Illinois House history, taking the gavel away from Michael Madigan, the state’s most powerful politician. Until Wednesday, Madigan held the spot for all but two years since 1983. In a statement closing out the 101st General Assembly, his last as Speaker of the House, Madigan wished Welch “all the best.”


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Policing in Illinois could look different after a sweeping criminal justice bill was passed by lawmakers in Springfield. House Bill 3653, which passed by a 60-50 vote, will change use-of-force guidelines, require body cameras for every police department in the state, end cash bail, and strip collective bargaining rights relating to discipline from police unions. The Senate passed the bill in the early morning hours of Wednesday by a 32-23 vote.


Elsewhere in America… 


Tennessee will be the first state in the nation to receive federal Medicaid funding in a lump sum. Gov. Bill Lee signed a 10-year TennCare block grant authorization into law Friday after the Tennessee Legislature passed it last week, giving the state more autonomy on administering its Medicaid program. The federal government currently funds a portion of TennCare’s costs, regardless of fluctuations each year. Under the block grant, however, the state would receive federal funds in a lump sum, providing for more flexibility in managing the funds. State officials believe the block grant also will result in cost savings for the program.


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