“Dysfunctional” Democrats May Keep House Supermajority


Written by Russ Stewart

Michael Madigan is a political genius, a durable Democratic leader, a successful and wealthy lawyer, and a horrendously dysfunctional speaker of the Illinois House.

Mayor Richard J. Daley once babbled some nonsense that “Good government is good politics.” He should have known better, as he spent a decade in Springfield, where the operative philosophy is “good politics may be good government, but if it’s not, so what?” Grasping, clutching and holding power is endemic.

Specimen A is Madigan, Springfield’s Machiavelli, who has been the speaker for 30 of the past 32 years. Madigan has a 71-47 super majority which he desperately wants to keep. A three-fifths vote is needed to override a governor’s veto and to pass bills in overtime sessions. If the Democrats lose a net of just one seat in November, the super majority is gone.

Madigan, who is both the speaker and the state Democratic Party chairman, will raise and spend $12 million to $15 million during the 2014 election campaign. In so-called “Tier One” House districts, where a Democratic incumbent is endangered and a Republican seat could flip, Madigan has the ability to pump in upwards of $500,000 for negative mailings, cable television ads, staffers and ground troops (usually union workers). Someone like state Representative Marty Moylan (D-55) of Des Plaines, who was elected to a longtime suburban Republican seat in 2012 as a result of $1 million in Madigan-orchestrated expenditures, votes like he’s told.

With 118 House seats, why would anybody spend $1 million in a single district again to re-elect Moylan, who faces a tough challenge from Republican Mel Thillens? Because Madigan has almost all the 70 other House Democrats under his thumb, dictates how they vote, can kill or pass any bill, can extract enormous sums from the special interests he benefits, and can raise the money needed to re-elect them.

Look at the vote chart. What did the House accomplish in 2014 other than avoid taking any vote, such as making the 2011 income tax hike permanent, which could jeopardize any of Madigan’s members? They increased spending for education by $117 million, passed $600 million in new road construction bonds and added new bond debt of $1.1 billion, swept funds, barred legislative cost of living adjustments, passed a “pension reform” which was invalidated, and funded $7.7 billion in pensions. They kicked the proverbial can down the road, as usual. No tough votes.

The legislators did pass a myriad of bills aimed at ginning up the Democratic base. That was politics as usual. Among the bills:

Ban requiring photo identification for voters. You need a photo ID to drive a car, buy liquor, get on a plane or leave the country, but not to vote? Also, early voting was extended, absentee balloting was liberalized, and registration on election day approved. That increases the Democratic vote.

An attempt by Republican Bruce Rauner to put a term limit amendment on the ballot was blocked by Madigan’s lawyers. That would have ginned up the Republican vote and meant that in 2020 Madigan would be the former speaker.

Put a nonbinding referendum on the ballot to raise the minimum wage from $8.25 per hour to $10. That supposedly will gin up minority and poorer voters.

Put a nonbinding referendum on the ballot to tax those earning more than $1 million annually at 3 percent over that threshold. That might gin up liberals.

Put a nonbinding referendum on the ballot to require that religious employers (primarily Catholic hospitals) provide birth control coverage under their employee plans. That should gin up the younger female vote.

There also are two Constitutional amendments on the ballot. One accords greater input and notification rights to crime victims during the criminal’s prosecution and release phases, and the second grandly states that one cannot be denied the right to vote due to national origin or religion. Isn’t that already in the U.S. Constitution? However, those binding amendments might gin up female crime victims and minorities.

Finally, Madigan went on the offensive early, before Labor Day, pounding Republicans with nasty, often patently false charges in their mailers. The goal is the make the Republicans counteract the charges, rather than attack the Democrats. Overall, the Democrats will outspend the Republicans 4-1.

“Our goal is to cease being a super minority,” said one Republican strategist, who was not particularly sanguine about a four- or five-seat Republican pick-up, despite the enormous unpopularity of Governor Pat Quinn Downstate, Rauner’s lavish spending and the overall Republican trend. “If we win four (Democratic seats) we’ll be ecstatic,” the strategist said. At least a dozen seats are in play:

55th District: Moylan won 21,321-18,711 in 2012 in this Park Ridge-Des Plaines district. He is being slammed in Republican mailers for his support of O’Hare runway expansion and heightened jet noise. Dan Proft’s Liberty PAC and the pro-business Together-Illinois PAC will pump $400,000 into Thillen’s campaign, but Madigan will dump in $1 million, and the pro-choice Personal PAC will mail heavily. Outlook: Rauner has integrated his campaign with Thillens. Moylan will win, but by fewer than 1,000 votes.

79th District: In 2012 Democrat Kate Cloonen beat Glenn Nixon 21,287-21,196, a margin of 91 votes in the Kankakee-area district. Madigan has already gone on the attack mode, but the Republicans are confident that Nixon will triumph. Outlook: Nixon wins.

71st District: Incumbent Republican Rich Morthland was kicked by a horse in 2012, was off the campaign trail for several months in the Rock Island district, and was upset by Mike Smiddy 25,011-23,937. The 2014 Republican candidate is Jim Wozniak. Outlook: Smiddy wins.

62nd District: This was the stunner of 2012. Incumbent Republican Sandy Cole appeared entrenched in the west Lake County district but was complacent. Sam Yingling, who is openly gay, brought in hundreds of workers from Chicago and was well funded by LGBT groups. He rode the Obama wave and upset Cole 20,994-16,978. Outlook: Yingling will easily beat Republican Rob Drobinski.

That’s a net Republican gain of one. Several Republican seats are at risk:

115th District: Incumbent Mike Bost is running for Congress in the East Saint Louis area and he likely will win. Ads are pricey in that media market, and the Democrats recruited Bill Kilquist, a 21-year sheriff in Jackson County. The Republican candidate is Terri Bryant. “This is our ‘top hold,'” the Republican strategist said, which means a top turnover risk. “If Bost wins (the district) 60-40, Bryant wins.” Outlook: Bryant wins narrowly.

112th District: Incumbent Dwight Kay won this Edwardsville district by 329 votes in 2012. He faced Cullen Cullen, who will have $400,000 in Madigan money. Outlook: Kay is favored.

Two open Republican seats, the 45th (Wood Dale-Itasca) and 91st (Joliet suburbs), are at some risk. My prediction: The next House will be 69-49 Democratic.

The vote chart includes eight state representatives from the northwest suburbs and the Northwest Side. Only one if them, Mike McAuliffe, is a Republican, and that is obvious from his voting record. McAuliffe sporadically voted against the Madigan agenda, particularly on fiscal issues. Despite that, Madigan is making no effort to defeat McAuliffe, who represents a district encompassing the 41st Ward and sections of Park Ridge, Rosemont, Schiller Park, Franklin Park, Norridge and Harwood Heights. The Democratic candidate is Mo Khan, a 29-year-old law school student who was an aide in Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign and who then worked for Alexi Giannoulias for senator in 2010. McAuliffe “is part of the problem in Springfield,” Khan said.

Khan’s problem is that Madigan doesn’t know he exists and has given him no funds. McAuliffe will win 60-40 percent, and Khan likely will end up as a White House staffer.

State Representatives Jaime Andrade (D-40), Luis Arroyo (D-3), Rob Martwick (D-19) and John D’Amico (D-15) are wholly owned subsidiaries of Madigan Inc. Madigan funds (or funded) them, and they vote like they’re told. Lou Lang (D-16) of Skokie, the assistant majority leader, has plenty of money and covets Madigan job but doesn’t buck the boss. Even self-proclaimed independents like Sara Feigenholtz (D-12) and don’t rock the boat.

Change in Springfield? Not while “Boss Mike” is around.

This article was originally posted at the Russ Stewart blog.