January 20, 2021


I recall a song by The Who which had prophetic anti-authoritarian lyrics such as "And the parting on the left is now parting on the right" and "meet the new boss, same as the old boss," concluding with the admonition "don't be fooled again."

That's exactly what happened during Springfield's manufactured drama over the Jan. 6 to 13 period. Illinoisans got fooled again. Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan (D) was dumped, but he is not going away. He has $17.9 million stashed away in four campaign accounts, and that money is portable. It follows him. New Speaker Emanuel "Chris" Welch (D) was chosen because he was the pick of the 22-member Black Caucus, which has clout.

Welch has been a state representative since 2013 but I think he is now in over his head. Some serious multi-tasking will be required. The state's $55 billion 2021 budget (which extends through June 30) has a hole of at least $6-7 billion due to COVID-19 expenditures, unemployment compensation claims, and collapsing sales and income tax revenues. It is a certainty that Illinois will be broke by April 1. Expenditures will exceed revenues and reserves and, like under the no-budget days of former Governor Bruce Rauner, vendors will be unpaid and "essential" services curtailed. And then there is 2022, which needs to be formulated, funded and in-place by July 1. Major tax hikes and/or service slashes are coming. These are Democrats. They love taxes.

And then there is the 2021 remap of the 59 Senate and 118 House districts. This must be done by June 30. Democrats have a 71-47 House majority, a loss of 3 seats on Nov. 3. But that is still slightly over 60 percent - a supermajority needed to pass bills after adjournment. Biden-Harris beat Trump-Pence -3,471,915-2,446,891, or about 57 percent. So there is some packing to do, which means stuffing as many Republicans into as few districts as possible. That is no problem in Chicago and Cook County. In 2020 50 Democrats were unopposed, including every African-American member. But that gets dicey in the collar county suburbs, with a lot of women Democratic incumbents and a still-sizeable Republican base. Packing will be difficult.

And then there is the money: Madigan was a master at growing and keeping his Caucus, creating winnable candidates. Does Welch have the same skill set? Madigan earned members' support because he could always prop them up with money, staff and favorable district lines. He would call around monthly to his union and special interest allies and they would do a regular money dump, putting money in his accounts and those of specific Madigan-controlled legislators -- like Kathleen Willis, who has $182,531 and Natalie Manley, who has $ 395,202; both were in leadership.

It is called parking. The money is then rerouted, removing Madigan's fingerprints. Willis dumped close to $100,000 into the campaign of Michelle Darbro (D), who Madigan's team recruited to run in the 20th District. She got money from state Rep. Gregg Harris as well. She lost to Brad Stephens (R).
As of Dec. 31 Madigan had $1,347,855 cash-on-hand in Friends of Madigan, $890,605 in Democratic Majority Fund, $1,914,204 in the state Democratic Party (DPI), of which he remains chairman, and $2.558,732 in the 13th Ward Democratic organization, where he is committeeperson. That's nearly $18 million, which he can spend or not spend as he sees fit. Welch has $105,757 on-hand. "He (Welch) will need to raise $35 million" for the 2022 cycle to keep a majority, predicted state Representative John D'Amico (D-15), who had $350,419 on-hand.

Add to that other legislator-friendly tasks which a leader must do, like tight scheduling (3 days a week in Springfield), always endorsing and funding an incumbent in a primary, avoiding hard/controversial votes, letting specific reps "vote their district" once he had 60 votes, and having staff do grunt work like signature-gathering for nominating petitions. The speaker also appoints all committee chairs and leadership (each getting a $12,000-a year stipend). That was the Madigan Era trade-off: He made legislators' lives easier, wealthier, and kept them in office, but he expected them to do as they were told (by him). Madigan practiced reality politics, the art of quid pro quo, also known as pay-to-play.

That modus operandi worked smoothly from 1983, when he became speaker, through about 2016. He kept his majority for all but 2 years (1995-96). He got daughter Lisa Madigan elected attorney general in 2002, and the prospect of her becoming governor made dad even more fearsome and powerful. He controlled the 2001 and 2011 remaps, giving himself a supermajority. He consistently thwarted Governor Rauner's (R) pro-business, cut-spending agenda, using it as a tool to ramp up his fund-raising with Labor unions, both trades and public sector.

But then four bad things happened: (1) Lisa Madigan retired and did not run for governor in 2018. (2) J.B. Pritzker spent $171 million to get elected governor, removing Rauner as Madigan's bogeyman and raison d'etre (reason for being). A good number of Democrats saw Pritzker as their new go-to Mr. Moneybags, spending millions of his own fortune on local party-building. But the 2020 defeat of the "Fair Tax" amendment soured that perception. The governor bungled its messaging, let it get entwined with Madigan, and it lost statewide. The vote was 3,059,411-2,683,940, just 53.2 percent, or about 400,000 votes below the 60 percent threshold. With Trump gone, the governor now "owns" the COVID-19 shutdown and recovery issue and with Madigan gone, the governor now "owns" the budgetary mess as well.

The coming tax hikes will be the Pritzker hikes, and 2022 will be a referendum on him. He, not Trump, Madigan or Welch, will be demonized. And down-ballot, especially House and Senate Democrats who voted for tax hikes, will suffer the consequences.

(3) Donald Trump got elected president and proceeded to quickly polarize the country, especially Democratic white "progressives" and minorities, prompting the advent of identity politics, which is now in full bloom in Illinois.

Everybody is now "woke." The idea is that any real change from now on is only effectuated by putting somebody of a different race, gender and/or sexual orientation into an office heretofore occupied by a white guy. Those offices are rapidly dwindling. But that is exactly what 68 of the 71 House Democrats did. It takes 60 votes to elect a speaker, and no House business can commence until that occurs.

The vote was on Jan. 13, but Madigan "suspended" his campaign for speaker on Jan. 12. A total of 19 House Democrats, mostly women and all white "progressives," had announced their opposition to Madigan, due largely to (4) the feds' criminal investigation of ComEd's alleged bribery of Madigan cronies to facilitate rate hikes. A total of $1.3 million in bribes - which involved putting Madigan pals on their payroll -- was paid by ComEd, according to a "deferred prosecution" plea agreement. Madigan has not been indicted and add to that the Black Caucus's 22 members that materialized after it endorsed Welch, and the vote was a 41/30 anti-Madigan.

The word "ignominious" is defined as a situation in which an individual is humiliated and/or degraded. Like being indicted. Like losing an election massively. In Madigan's case it was being subjected to a 6-day dog-and-pony show in the basement of the Bank of Springfield Convention Center, where speaker aspirants had to appear and present their "credentials." It was Madigan's money and smarts that got most of those worthies elected. It all came down to self-preservation, as in TAKING CARE OF NUMBER ONE.

The result of the Illinois Supreme Court retention race of justice Tom Kilbride, who lost with 58 percent, was traumatizing. Kilbride was elected in 2000 from the 3rd District, which spans the state from Rockford to Rock Island and Quincy, largely due to Madigan's money. That insured a 4-3 Democratic Court majority, which still prevails. Control of the High Court is especially important on labor issues, tort reform and elections. It was that majority which put Rahm Emanuel back on the ballot in 2011, struck down right-to-work and barred tort judgment caps. There was a massive media campaign slamming Kilbride as "Madigan's judge." It worked.
As did the anti-Fair-Tax campaign.

Madigan was also the bogeyman/issue in numerous legislative contests, to the Democrats' detriment, especially in the Darbro-Stephens race. Madigan could have groveled before the caucus, and precipitated dozens of speaker votes. He had 31 loyal supporters, but he would never get to 60. There was a similar situation in 1975, when Democrats won the House and Downstate conservative Clyde Choate wanted to be speaker, and it took weeks to resolve. Madigan got out before he was booted out.

There will be two Supreme Court seat on the ballot in 2022. If Republicans flip Kilbride's seat they will have a 4-3 majority. That was Madigan's argument at the caucus: That only he can keep the money spigot flowing and Democrats winning. It no longer resonates. Madigan was a boss at a time when Democrats want a symbol.

That is what Welch will be: A transitional figurehead for 2 years while Illinois descends into the abyss.