Gov. J.B. Pritzker continues to talk about how he plans to clean up Springfield’s culture of corruption and harassment. He has set out an ambitious agenda for 2020, yet he has so far been unwilling to confront the state’s biggest problem with said culture: House Speaker and state Democratic Party Chairman Michael Madigan.
Even as federal investigators appear to be getting ever closer to Madigan, the governor said Tuesday he doesn’t know where those investigations are going. There are no tea leaves to read here, Governor. The feds are going after Madigan.
But who knows how long that will take or if they even are able to gather enough evidence for an indictment at all.
In the meantime, changing the statehouse’s culture of corruption and harassment won’t get accomplished as long as Madigan remains in charge of the House and the party’s purse strings.
Let’s face it, Madigan has had a rough couple of years. He somehow survived the #MeToo scandals that took down some of his top men, namely Tim Mapes and Kevin Quinn. And the latest reports from the Chicago Tribune show Madigan’s mea culpa on harassment under the dome was disingenuous at best. Because after Quinn was cut loose, a bunch of the House Speaker’s lobbyist pals got together to throw Quinn more than $30,000 in no-work contracts — all on behalf of “Himself.”
But of course, Madigan said he didn’t know anything about his buddies passing the plate for Quinn. He also didn’t know Mapes, his longtime chief of staff, was doing anything untoward until he had to fire Mapes, too.
Pushing major ethics reform has failed in the past, most notably after disgraced former Gov. Rod Blagojevich was removed from office, convicted of corruption charges and sentenced to federal prison. It’s hard to see things going any differently if everyone continues to be deferential to Madigan’s wishes.
Some Democrats already have started speaking out about the need for Madigan to go.
State Sen. Iris Y. Martinez, a Chicago Democrat, wrote an opinion piece recently that said lawmakers need “protection from Mike Madigan.” That means House Democrats, who are afraid to buck the powerful speaker because of his ability to end their political careers.
But if Pritzker stepped up and stated the obvious, that the culture of harassment and corruption has continued because Madigan has stonewalled reforms needed to make Illinois more ethical at almost every turn, others are sure to follow.
Pritzker, of course, can’t get rid of Madigan on his own. The House Speaker is elected by the full House of Representatives, and the representatives are elected by the voters in their respective districts.
But Pritzker has his pulpit. He also has plenty of influence over Democrats in the state.
If Pritzker really wants to clean up the state, the first step will be standing up to the one person who prefers the status quo: Michael Madigan.