September 11, 2002


Longtime Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan, the current Democratic state chairman and father of state attorney general candidate Lisa Madigan, likes to think that he is living proof that what goes around does not necessarily come around. Despite being reviled by the Republicans, and despite becoming increasingly arrogant in his use of power, Madigan expects to be around as speaker for the next ten years. However, if a Democrat becomes governor, Madigan’s power in his party and in the legislature will quickly diminish.

Madigan’s record reign as speaker – 18 of the past 20 years – runs contrary to the normal cyclical swings of politics, where one party does not remain dominant too long; and contrary to the natural atrophy of politics, where one politician does not remain dominant too long.

By the luck of the draw, Madigan got the opportunity to draw the boundaries for the state’s 118 House districts. Because of his artful cartography, and because of demographic changes favorable to the Democrats, especially in the southern Cook County suburbs, Madigan’s current 62-56 majority will likely bloat to 68-50 or better in November.

 Madigan’s iron control of his chamber rests upon two pillars: First, Democratic Caucus rules bind every Democratic representative to vote the will of the Caucus majority. Only the speaker can excuse a member to vote contrary to the Caucus. And second, Madigan controls the House staff, the committee chairmanships, and the $1 million campaign budget that is doled out to incumbents and challengers each election cycle. Since Madigan helps get his minions elected and re-elected, they vote as they’re told.

At present, Madigan, age 60, is the Democrats’ Numero Uno in Springfield. But if Democrat Rod Blaogjevich is elected governor, and if the Democrats capture control of the Illinois Senate, Madigan’s power and influence will markedly decline. It is no secret in political circles that Blagojevich still resents his treatment by Madigan while he was a legislator during the 1993-96 period. Madigan hardly knew that Blagojevich existed, so it will be galling for Madigan to play second fiddle to Blagojevich, if he’s governor, much as it will be payback time for Blagojevich to rub Madigan’s nose in the dirt.

Madigan has kept the House Democratic Caucus united by focusing on opposing the Republicans, particularly the Illinois Senate majority. If Blagojevich wins, that strategy would be moot in 2003, and the Caucus, composed of relatively conservative Downstaters and Chicago and suburban white ethnics, as well as a large number of blacks and Chicago white liberals, would be quite fractious. Will Madigan bind the Caucus to back Blagojevich’s programs, which are likely to be liberal? Or will he let members vote as they choose, thereby incurring the wrath of Blagojevich? Politically, it would be best for Madigan if Jim Ryan were elected governor. Then he’d have somebody to oppose, and thereby keep his troops in line.

One lesson Republicans can learn from Madigan is to persevere. The remap after the 1990 census, and the remap lottery, allowed the Republicans to draw the map. But Madigan recruited viable candidates, funds them lavishly, and kept control in 1992 by a hefty 67-51 majority. In 1994, Democrats lost 12 seats, and Republicans took a 63-55 majority. But Madigan spent the next two years plotting and planning, and the Democrats retook the House in 1996, with a 60-58 majority (which grew to 62-56 in 1998).

If Blagojevich is governor, and if he’s an unpopular governor, then the Republicans will have a chance to start knocking off some of Madigan’s incumbents in 2004 and thereafter.

A Democrat is favored to win in 61 districts, a Republican in 50. That leaves only seven seats “in play.” Here’s a brief overview of the six most competitive races:

20th District (Northwest Side Chicago): Democratic incumbent Bob Bugielski is facing Republican incumbent Mike McAuliffe. About 40 percent of the new district was in McAuliffe’s old district, versus about 20 percent of Bugielski’s. McAuliffe is the harder worker, but Bugielski has the better precinct organization, and is trying to run in tandem with Blagojevich. As the adjoining vote chart indicates, McAuliffe has been quite conservative on spending and fiscal issues, and Bugielski, who always voted the Madigan line in his old, safe district, has become more conservative, voting more like Ralph Capparelli than like Lou Lang. If the Republicans ever hope to regain the House, they need to keep McAuliffe.

57th District (Des Plaines, Northbrook): Northbrook Democrat Elaine Nekritz is a liberal in a new district with a large Jewish population that went big for Al Gore in 2000. But Republican Mary Childers, a former Des Plaines alderman, is running hard. The result depends on who does best in their base. Slight edge to Nekritz.

83rd District (Aurora): Madigan packed every possible Hispanic voter into this district. But Hispanics are notorious for their low turnout. The Republican is Bob O’Connor, an Aurora alderman; the Democrat is Linda Chapa la Via, a local restaurant owner. Edge to O’Connor.

59th District (Vernon Hills, Deerfield): Vernon Hills Mayor Roger Byrne is the ideal Republican candidate in this district – a popular local officeholder. But a Democratic sweep could elect Kathy Ryg, the deputy Lake County recorder of deeds. Likely Byrne.

103rd District (Urbana): Madigan included all the student precincts around the University of Illinois into this district; previously, they were split between two districts. A big Blaogjevich vote will surely sink incumbent Republican Tom Berns and elect Democrat Naomi Jakobsson. Edge to Jakobsson.

The upset special: 28th District (far South Side Chicago, Blue Island): This is a black-majority district, but the Democratic nomination was won by Bob Rita, who is white. Rita was recently arrested for beating up his girlfriend, and calls for his resignation have reached a crescendo. Black Democratic leaders in the area are especially irritated; they’ve been picketing his house and have called on Madigan to force Rita off the ticket. Rita is still running, giving black Republican Wayland Johnson an outside chance. Expect Johnson to win.

My prediction: A 68-50 Madigan majority.