September 21, 2023


Equality opinion

Michael Madigan: The Man Who Ran Illinois

State legislators are like ants on a log. There are much too a lot of of them and they are as well smaller, running all-around as well rapidly to understand as folks, permit by yourself keep track of their attempts. Even if the log is in your backyard, why trouble paying consideration? Presented the usual statehouse task—dragging bits of legislative leaf around—only the most devoted political junkies even bother to test.

Once in a while, even though, just one leader vegetation himself in the center of the motion lengthy more than enough to offer a pathway not just to fully grasp what is heading on in a person colony, but also to illuminate the common calamity poisoning our progressively harmful countrywide political society: the dollars, affect, rule bending, and self-dealing that deform authorities at each individual amount.

The House That Madigan Crafted: The Document Operate of Illinois’ Velvet Hammer
by Ray Prolonged
University of Illinois Push, 312 pp.

Meet Michael J. Madigan, the tight-mouthed enigma at the centre of the Illinois legislative anthill for much more than a third of a century. Nicknamed “the Sphinx” for his expressionless silence and windblown longevity, Madigan was the last operative generate shaft from the old Daley Democratic machine—forged by Richard J. Daley, Chicago’s infamous mayor from 1955 to 1976— exactly where clout was created on a program of mutual assistance: You vote the ideal way, and I’ll make certain your son gets a park district work. All through his job, Madigan was chairman of the Democratic Occasion of Illinois, committeeman of Chicago’s 13th Ward, and speaker of the Illinois Property for 36 years, the longest-serving leader of any legislative system in American record.

Reviled by Republicans as “the heart of all evil in condition government,” Madigan endured whilst governors arrived and went. When Republican Jim Edgar became governor in 1991, Madigan didn’t return his cell phone calls for months. Madigan did not will need him he was served by a patronage army of 400 drones beholden to him for employment, raises, and promotions, who would leap to marketing campaign, knock on doorways, and buttonhole commuters to indication petitions. (Or, in 1 notorious ploy, the opposite: hectoring residents of Madigan’s district to indicator affidavits retracting their signatures on the nominating petitions of a 19-yr-aged who dared operate versus the state’s most powerful politician’s chosen alderman. The lad experienced no likelihood of successful, but so ruthlessly experienced the speaker’s operatives clawed signatures again that some 2,600 voters agreed to renounce signatures they experienced never ever provided.)

Madigan was an acknowledged fact of daily life in Illinois, like the weather conditions, or, more precisely, like God, a mysterious power in His Heaven, spinning performs and mysteries.

Then it all adjusted.

To start with, the #MeToo revolution of 2018 rattled the Madigan organization, using down his longtime main of staff members, Tim Mapes, and top rated aide, Kevin Quinn, amid accusations that Madigan did not do ample to end them from sexually harassing their feminine colleagues. Daylight started out pouring by way of the cracks. Madigan gave the first deposition in his lifetime. The U.S. Office of Justice’s federal investigation into Madigan’s alleged corruption circled nearer. For several years, Madigan experienced applied an electrical utility enterprise, Commonwealth Edison, as a “crony work service” that issued direct payments to Madigan’s allies, these as the $4,500 a month it funneled to the Cook dinner County recorder of deeds, Ed Moody, for “consulting.” In return, Madigan advanced legislation that was favorable to the utility. He would also steer enterprise to his non-public law firm, such as consumers who had enterprise just before the state.

These machinations experienced extended been filthy secrets and techniques all over Springfield, but now they ended up coming into total look at. Illinois Residence Democrats, in November 2020, read the hounds baying in the distance and balked at handing Madigan the speaker’s gavel—a at the time-unimaginable blasphemy. Compelled to surrender the speakership, Madigan handed the baton in excess of to his handpicked successor. Even just after he resigned from the Property, it seemed that Madigan may exit with his monumental dignity, techniques, and particular freedom intact.

Alternatively, in early March, the DOJ indicted Madigan on 22 federal counts of racketeering and bribery, accusing him of running “a prison enterprise whose goal was to enrich Madigan’s political energy and financial properly-remaining while also building money for his political allies and associates.” The utmost sentence for the expenses against him is 20 years in prison.

Madigan pleaded not guilty.

Did Madigan, 79, finally slip up in his senescence? Did he develop into careless, or just have the poor luck to do the standard legislative horse buying and selling into a federal wiretap? The problem snakes by means of a very readable new reserveThe House That Madigan Developed: The Record Operate of Illinois’ Velvet Hammer, by Ray Prolonged, himself a Springfield fixture, masking the Illinois condition capital for the Chicago Tribune, the Chicago Sun-Times (wherever we were colleagues), and in other places.

Extensive was on hand to notice the unique way Madigan held the speaker’s gavel when he assumed ability in 1983. No percussive slams of his predecessors. Rather, he wrapped his fingers around the barrel and tapped the handle, quietly.

“This is a new era,” Madigan purred.

Not genuinely. More like the exact same outdated period prettied up to pass by the porous barrier of ethics regulations. Creativeness was required. Madigan couldn’t just hand out governing administration work opportunities to reward his pals. That was not performed brazenly any more. So ComEd would do it for him, allegedly. Madigan received loyalists everything from operate as meter readers and summer time internships to a seat on the utility’s board.

Long presents the central issue that legislators and lobbyists alike struggled with: “What does the speaker consider?” Although neither Very long nor his audience have ESP, we can surmise what Madigan believed by what he did.

3 major currents: Initially, Madigan viewed as Chicago critical, for its possess appropriate and as the financial motor that drives Illinois. He thwarted initiatives to strip control of O’Hare and Midway airports from Chicago and give it to a regional authority and retained Illinois tax dollars flowing to the Windy Town. Although it would be an exaggeration to propose that Chicago would have grow to be Detroit or Cleveland without having him, the simple fact is, it didn’t, and Madigan assisted.

Second, he thought the legislature must be its possess impartial, perfectly-disciplined electrical power, coequal to the govt branch and the courts. When some legislative bodies come to be rubber stamps—hello, Chicago City Council—the legislature mattered underneath Madigan.

Finally, he considered that Illinois really should be reserved solely for the use and pleasure of the Democratic Social gathering. In truth, the state became a blue island in a sea of pink, jammed among Indiana, the Mississippi of the Midwest Missouri, in which Donald Trump conquer Joe Biden by 15 points Iowa, which has much more cattle than folks and Wisconsin, exactly where Scott Walker’s brand of anti-union revanchism observed alarming good results.

This was performed, in component, by “extreme” gerrymandering. Madigan redrew the point out maps in 1981, 2001, and 2011. For all the horror that Dems rightly truly feel about latest GOP initiatives to undermine the mechanics of voting, no ballot limitations surpass the feats of resourceful cartography carving safe and sound havens for Democrats and, when certainly necessary, ghettos exactly where Republican voters can have their say.

Even right after the danger to our elections was manufactured all as well very clear, Illinois Democrats carried on in October, dividing the condition into 13 strongly Democratic districts, 3 strongly Republican seats, and just just one really aggressive district.

Beside the rank hypocrisy, there is a different price, laid out in perhaps the most reverberating passage in Long’s guide, when Barack Obama, who served as a condition senator alongside Madigan, travels to Springfield in 2016 to warn how gerrymandering—much less than 10 percent of Household districts nationwide are competitive—is hazardous to democracy. When the districts become fewer competitive concerning Democrats and Republicans, the primaries acquire additional forex, exactly where turnout is lessen and extremist candidates can choose root. As a consequence, Obama reported, “our debates transfer away from the center, exactly where most People in america are, towards the significantly ends of the spectrum, and that polarizes us more.”

Not all of Long’s ebook echoes with this sort of importance. There is considerably on elevating state taxes and grappling with the Land of Lincoln’s pension crisis, sophisticated knots of alliances untangled, and motivations parsed.

A handful of chapters are set pieces, capturing the vicissitudes of Illinois politics. There is the drama of June 30, 1988, as Republican Governor Jim Thompson joins Madigan to test to fund a new ballpark for the White Sox when the team is all but on a airplane to Florida. The deed experienced to be accomplished right before midnight, when a change in the legislature’s make-up would doom the work. But Madigan “made time stand still”—literally. He stopped the clock at mid- evening so that he and Thompson could twist arms while opponents sang that “Na na na na / Na na na na / Hey, hey-ey, goodbye” song that Sox admirers use to jeer opposing pitchers off the field.

The episode is so considerably fun, with that in the vicinity of-biblical stopping of the sunshine, that it’s attainable to overlook—puff absent the obfuscating fog of fandom—that authorities officers have been bending the regulation to place public dollars into the pockets of a personal business enterprise.

Regardless of these times of drama, at the close of Long’s reserve the Sphinx remains a cypher. Does he have friends? Hobbies? An interior lifetime? Prolonged never ever bothers to wonder. Robert Caro he is not. The ideal Long can do is observe that Madigan “put profitable over ideology. He demanded fanatical loyalty and received it. He outworked, outmaneuvered, and outlasted whoever got in his way.”

For so long, it seemed like eternally. And then it was over—except, of course, for the pending trial.

Which brings us back to the ant entire world, where by Madigan traversed for so prolonged, and exactly where just about every colony has only a person leader, served by an military of faceless workers. As humans, we’re intended to do better in our social hierarchies. Without a doubt, in authorities, we’re meant to never serve just one man or girl but rather that noble and outdated-fashioned idea of the “common very good.” But as Ray Long’s worthwhile new guide points out, one particular savvy politician can nevertheless skew the entire program to their bidding, for a long time and years—so long as they have the ingenuity, and the enablers, to pull it off.