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

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.”

* * * * 

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.”


* * * * 

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.


Wilmington residents David and Peg Schroeder sued the city after it enacted a short-term rental ordinance that capped the number of properties that can operate as rental homes in the same area. The couple sought legal help from the Institute for Justice and won its case when a New Hanover County Superior Court judge declared the ordinance “void and unenforceable.” Wilmington officials, however, have continued enforcing the policy and delayed revisions to it by at least three months.


State Sen. Danny Burgess, R-Zephyrhills, filed legislation last week that would require social media websites to provide individual and business users notice that the website has suspended or disabled a user’s account with some recourse available to restore the account. Burgess characterized the bill as an “innovative and timely piece of legislation” that “originated from numerous constituents facing issues by these monopolized monster social media companies right in our own backyard.”


A Mason-Dixon Polling and Strategy poll released last week showed a majority of Virginia residents supported measures to provide financial support for parents who opted to enroll their children in alternative education systems while the state’s schools remain closed. The poll found that 61% of registered voters would support giving parents a portion of the state’s K-12 funding to use for home, virtual or private education if public schools remain closed for in-person classes. And 51% of respondents supported Gov. Ralph Northam giving new federal relief funding for education directly to parents for purchasing education technology and materials, private school tuition and home education.


Pennsylvania lawmakers dismayed by Gov. Tom Wolf’s apparently limitless power following his declaration of a state of emergency are moving closer to amending the state constitution to put a check on that power. Lawmakers tried other tactics to constrain Wolf in 2020, including passing bills targeting specific orders, but he vetoed those bills – even when they passed on a bipartisan basis. Now, if the Legislature approves the constitutional amendment, voters will get a chance to weigh in on the issue.


New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivered a State of the State address spread over the course of four days and capped it with a proposal to spend tens of billions of dollars on infrastructure building in what he called a “new New York.” Among his goals are revamping Penn Station, Pier 76 and the Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York City in a $51 billion investment that he says would create 196,000 jobs.


State lawmakers in the Garden State are moving toward the creation of a commission that would focus on the high number of rules and regulations in the state that can serve as a drag on the economy. The New Jersey Business and Industry Association has come in favor of the creation of the commission, saying it would make the state “more responsive to its residents, more accessible to people and small businesses that do not always have the opportunity to impact government, and more transparent to all taxpayers.”


Ohio took a step toward criminal justice reform when Gov. Mike DeWine signed a bill into law that favors treatment over jail time. The legislation, applauded by both Republicans and Democrats, requires judges to hold a hearing if a defendant applies for intervention and claims drug or alcohol abuse was a factor leading to the crime.


Overflow crowds of concerned citizens filled the hallways of Indiana’s Capitol as the legislature held a hearing on a bill that would stop employers from making people get a vaccine as a condition of employment. The bill, introduced by Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, adds a freedom-of-conscience provision to Indiana law, affirming the right of citizens to opt out of vaccines for pretty much any reason.


A special committee created to review an impeachment petition against Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear has given him until Jan. 22 to respond in writing to the claims against him. Meanwhile, the committee has also received a similar petition against a state lawmaker. Committee Chairman state Rep. Jason Nemes, R-Louisville, sent the formal invitation to Amy Cubbage, Beshear’s general counsel, in a letter dated Thursday. 


A New Orleans social worker has sued Louisiana Department of Health leaders, arguing that denying her a license violated her constitutional rights. Ursula Newell-Davis, founder of Sivad Home and Community Health Services, is not challenging the need for the license itself, but the state’s “facility need review” policy, which requires certain types of providers to show their services are needed before they can get a license to practice and receive taxpayer dollars through the state’s Medicaid program.


Texas state lawmakers convened last week to begin the 87th Legislative Session. The legislature is expected to address the state’s $1 billion 2020-2021 biennial budget shortfall, police funding, and a long list of other measures in less than five months.


In the wake of a ballot initiative giving Arizona one of the nation’s highest top marginal income tax rates, Gov. Doug Ducey announced in his state-of-the-state address that he plans to ask lawmakers to cut income taxes. The lame-duck governor said he wants to “think big” in terms of lowering the state’s tax burden and restore Arizona’s reputation as a destination for people seeking an affordable place to live.


Colorado lost its bid to be the permanent headquarters to U.S. Space Command on Wednesday, a move the state’s leaders say is politically motivated and will cost taxpayers. Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs – where the Space Command has been temporarily headquartered – was one of the six locations being considered, but Redstone Arsenal in Alabama was selected “based on factors related to mission, infrastructure capacity, community support and costs to the Department of Defense.” Space Command would have accounted for an estimated $104 million in earnings and $450 million in economic activity in Colorado.

Chris Krug is publisher of The Center Square. Executive Editor Dan McCaleb and regional editors J.D. Davidson, Derek Draplin, Cole Lauterbach, Delphine Luneau, Brett Rowland, Jason Schaumburg and Bruce Walker contributed to the column.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee unveiled his latest capital gains tax proposal as part of his 2021-2023 proposed budget last month, which would tax the sale of stocks, bonds, and other assets at a rate of 9% on capital gains above $25,000 for individuals and $50,000 for joint filers. Opponents of a capital gains tax argue that it stands little chance of holding up in court and note that new taxes are unnecessary when state revenue is forecast to be relatively strong for the near future.

By Chris Krug | The Center Square
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