Caucus fracas? Opposition to Madigan’s speaker bid reaches his own leadership team

Caucus fracas? Opposition to Madigan’s speaker bid reaches his own leadership team

State Rep. Kathleen Willis, left, n 2018; House Speaker Michael Madigan, right, in 2015. | Ashlee Rezin Garcia, Rich Hein/Sun-Times file.

House Democratic Caucus Chair Kathleen Willis pointedly did not use the title that Madigan has held for nearly four decades, referring to the man known in Springfield as “The Speaker” as simply “Representative Madigan.”

The chair of the House Democratic Caucus said Tuesday she won’t vote for Michael Madigan to retain the speaker’s gavel, making her the 19th House Democrat — and the first member of the chamber’s party leadership — to break ranks with the besieged veteran legislative leader.

State Rep. Kathleen Willis said in a statement to her fellow Democratic legislators that she made the decision to oppose Madigan’s bid to be speaker in the next General Assembly after “a lot of thought and discussion with my family.”

The west suburban Democrat pointedly did not use the title that Madigan has held for nearly four decades, referring to the man known in Springfield as “The Speaker” or “Mr. Speaker” as simply “Representative Madigan.”

“As the House Democratic Caucus Chair, this decision was not made lightly,” Willis wrote. “I feel strongly that our caucus has a lot of hard work to accomplish in the upcoming legislative session and we need to put the distraction that has been created by Representative Madigan behind us and move forward in mending the State of Illinois.”

State Rep. Kathleen Willis addresses the Sun-Times Editorial Board in 2016.Rich Hein/Sun-Times file
State Rep. Kathleen Willis addresses the Sun-Times Editorial Board in 2016.

Some of that “hard work” includes the coronavirus and healthcare, “ending systemic racism, ethics reform” and protecting services for some of the state’s most vulnerable, Willis wrote.

The Addison Democrat did not immediately respond to request for comment, but her decision to break ranks further complicates Madigan’s path to another term as speaker, a position he’s held for all but two years since 1983 — longer than any other statehouse speaker in the nation.

Willis’ Tuesday announcement makes her the first House Democratic leader to say publicly she won’t vote for Madigan to remain speaker.

Madigan, 78, has not been charged with any crime and denies any wrongdoing, but a series of explosive federal court filings have implicated him in an alleged bribery scheme in which ComEd is accused of sending $1.3 million to Madigan’s associates for doing little or no work for the utility.

Madigan worked the phones last month after the indictment of one of his closest confidants and three others, calling some fellow Democratic legislators to assure them he’s planning to run for another term as speaker and gauging their support.

Former ComEd official John Hooker, clockwise from top left, Springfield insider Michael McClain, forrmer City Club president Jay Doherty and ex-ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore.Sun-Times files
Former ComEd official John Hooker and others indicted last month, clockwise from top left, Springfield insider Michael McClain, forrmer City Club president Jay Doherty and ex-ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore.

But his grasp on the speaker’s gavel loosened after those indictments, with two more legislators vowing not to support him, bringing the total of Democratic representatives who said they won’t vote to reelect the speaker to 18 after the indictments.

Madigan needs 60 votes. Willis’ decision now puts Madigan’s total at 54, assuming none of the nay-sayers change their minds.

Madigan’s spokeswoman did not respond to requests for comment on Tuesday.

Willis’ decision is expected to intensify discussions about who might succeed Madigan.

State Rep. Stephanie Kifowit of Oswego was the first to announce her challenge to Madigan. But the growing drumbeat of opposition to Madigan has thrown more than half a dozen other names into the mix as potential successors.

Democratic state representatives, top row left to right, William Davis; Greg Harris; Jehan Gordon-Booth; Stephanie A. Kifowit; bottom row left to right, Jay Hoffman; Kelly Cassidy; Kelly M. Burke; Emanuel “Chris” Welch.File Photos by Ashlee Rezin Garcia and Rich Hein/Sun-Times; Seth Perlman/AP and Facebook.
Democratic state representatives mentioned as possible successors to Madigan, top row left to right, William Davis; Greg Harris; Jehan Gordon-Booth; Stephanie A. Kifowit; bottom row left to right, Jay Hoffman; Kelly Cassidy; Kelly M. Burke; Emanuel “Chris” Welch.

Assistant Majority Leader Rep. William Davis is sticking by Madigan.

He said last month the two had a “very short” conversation wherein the speaker asked for the Homewood Democrat’s vote, and Davis told him he’d have it come January, when House members will pick their leader.

“I have told speaker Madigan that I would support him, and I would not back away from that support,” Davis said at the time, though he’s also made clear he has his eye on the speaker’s gavel — once Madigan is ready to relinquish it.

“What I have said is that I would like to be the next speaker of the House, but, prior to what’s happened, that’s always been a ‘when-Madigan-leaves’ conversation,” Davis said then. “And, right now, that hasn’t changed. As this plays out a little bit more, and if he comes to the conclusion that he doesn’t have the votes, I hope there will be another conversation about making a smooth transition of leadership.”

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