GOP picks Dems' brains to gauge support for Madigan to remain speaker
As January approaches, the Illinois Republican Party is pressing Democratic members of the House to reveal their plans for the election of the state House speaker.
State Rep. Mike Madigan (D-Chicago) has been speaker for 31 of his 45 years in the state House.
Southern Illinois Democratic lawmakers were among the first featured on the GOP's new website, www.bossmadigan.com. Downstate representatives include Dan Beiser (D-Alton), Jerry Costello II (D-Smithton), Brandon Phelps (D-Harrisburg) and Katie Stuart (D-Glen Carbon).
The GOP is trying to break Madigan's stranglehold on the legislature, and a new House speaker might be more receptive to changes, including allowing more of their bills to go to the House floor for votes. These would introduce reforms, such as term limits and redistricting, which regularly die in committee.
When questioned about the upcoming vote for speaker of the House, Democratic lawmakers tried to sidestep the issue.
“I don’t think I can answer that question until I know who all the candidates are,” Costello said. “What I have to do is vote in a way which helps me best represent my constituents and my district. I represent roughly 110,000 people, and what I’ve got to do is make sure the vote I cast isn’t an emotional vote — that it’s a vote that allows me to best represent those people.”
As Illinois Republican Party spokesman Steven Yaffe said, pretending that no one knows who is running for House speaker is simply dodging the question. Madigan has held the position for more than three decades with only one two-year break when Republicans held the House majority. There is no doubt that he will run again.
“Jerry Costello claims that the people of Illinois ‘deserve real answers,’ yet when asked whether he will support Mike Madigan for speaker, Costello disingenuously dodges the question and pretends to not even know that Madigan is running," Yaffe said. "By refusing to say whether he will support Mike Madigan for a third time, Costello shows that he won’t even live by his own words. Jerry Costello is everything that is wrong with Illinois politics.”
Stuart also waffled when asked about her vote for the speaker position. She indicated that she wasn't sure who was running.
“I don’t know what the options will be," Stuart told Illinois News Network. "You’re asking me a hypothetical question, just like I wouldn’t tell you how I would vote on any piece of legislation until I actually read the legislation.”
While the lawmakers either dodged the question or simply did not reply to queries, openly opposing Madigan's election could be fatal for a politician's chances for re-election. Madigan has been the Democratic Party chairman for 20 years. He decides which candidates the party will support, including who receives campaign donations – and who does not. House lawmakers who oppose Madigan may find themselves blocked from committee appointments and their bills stuck in committee.
Refusing to give a straight answer to inquiries on the House speaker vote may be a tactical move for lawmakers. Madigan needs 60 votes to be re-elected to the position, and the House is composed of 67 Democrats and 51 Republicans. If seven lawmakers break ranks, he may lose the coveted speaker position. While that could change the game in the House, his ties inside and outside of the legislature could still mean the end of some political careers.
The GOP may use www.bossmadigan.com to reveal politicians' previous support for Madigan, as well as their campaign contributions and voting records, but it cannot predict which way the wind is blowing in the House. Unless the lawmakers disclose their votes, the GOP and constituents will have to wait until January to see if a new speaker will take the lead for the next two years.