CHICAGO (CBS) — Arguing Republicans were able to use Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan “as their foil” in this year’s elections, Gov. JB Pritzker said Thursday it’s time for new leadership for the Democratic Party of Illinois.
Madigan is the only state house speaker in the U.S. who also serves as his state party’s chairman.
Pritzker said he agrees with U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin that Republicans were able to use the controversies recently swirling around Madigan to their advantage on Election Day, when Illinois voters rejected Pritzker’s signature proposal to allow for a graduated income tax, and voted out an Illinois Supreme Court justice who has received millions of dollars in campaign cash from funds controlled by Madigan. A handful of Republican challengers also defeated Democratic incumbents in the Illinois House.
Madigan has been implicated in a sweeping bribery case against utility giant ComEd. Earlier this year, federal prosecutors accused ComEd of a yearslong bribery scheme that sought to curry Madigan’s favor in advancing legislation relaxing state regulation of ComEd’s rates by directing $1.3 million in payments to the speaker’s associates. ComEd acknowledged it stood to benefit by more than $150 million from that legislation.
Madigan has not been charged with a crime and has denied any wrongdoing, but at the request of Illinois House Republicans, a special House Investigating Committee has launched a probe into possible disciplinary charges against Madigan.
In an interview with WTTW on Wednesday, Durbin said the Democratic Party of Illinois “paid a heavy price for the speaker’s chairmanship” on Election Day due to the controversies swirling around Madigan.
“Candidates who had little or no connection with him whatsoever were being tarred as Madigan allies who are behind corruption and so forth and so on,” he said. “It was really disconcerting to see the price that we paid on that. I hope he takes that to heart and understands that his presence as chairman of our party has not helped.”
On Thursday, Pritzker said he agreed with Durbin’s assessment of the election.
“Opponents were able to tap into voters’ concerns about corruption, and their lack of trust in government. There are real challenges there,” Pritzker said. “The Republicans and the billionaires that sided with them were effectively able to use the speaker as their foil, and that hurt our ability, our state’s ability to get things done.”
While Durbin stopped short of saying he would support replacing Madigan as party chairman, Pritzker was asked if he agreed there should be new leadership at the party.
“Yes,” Pritzker said.
U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Illinois) agreed with Pritzker’s comments, and also called for Madigan to step down, The Associated Press reported.
In a statement Thursday afternoon, Madigan indicated he intends to stay as the state’s Democratic Party chairman.
“I am proud of my record electing Democrats who support workers and families and represent the diversity of our state. Together, we have successfully advanced progressive policies that have made Illinois a strong Democratic state with supermajorities in the legislature. Illinois is the anchor in the ‘blue wall’ that has been reconstructed in the Midwest, and I look forward to continuing our fight for working families as chairman of the Democratic Party of Illinois,” the speaker said in a statement.
Illinois Republican Party Chairman Tim Schneider said it wouldn’t be enough for Madigan to simply step down as Democratic Party chair.
“Let me be clear: a superficial and political demotion as Chairman of the DPI does nothing to end Madigan’s reign of corruption as Speaker of the House. His position at the heights of our state government is where he derives his power and where he still diligently gives Governor Pritzker his marching orders. Suggesting the Speaker step down as party chair is a cop out,” Schneider said in a statement.