Critics Say ‘House of Madigan’ Continues to Play by Own Rules

Written by the Chicago City Wire

Several Illinois legislators have responded to the House’s latest capitulation to longtime Speaker Mike Madigan (D-Chicago), decrying the body’s utter lack of independence or apparent motivation to value representation of home jurisdictions over the speaker’s sway.

Following the state House’s vote, Madigan’s standard menu of mandates was approved yet again as he keeps a three-fifths majority in the House. The results incited strong reactions among officials and members of both political parties.

“Good ideas that benefit real people will be buried because of Mike Madigan’s singular authority,” state Rep. Steve Reick (R-Woodstock) said, according to Capitolfax added that a House Republican proposal fronted by Minority Leader Jim Durkin (R-Western Springs) — suggesting options to enhance transparency — was not even allotted a public hearing.

“By voting to enact Madigan’s rules, House Democrats have relinquished all ability to act independently or put the people ahead of the political machine,” Illinois Republican Party spokesman Aaron DeGroot said, according to Capitolfax. “Today, House Democrats chose to put Mike Madigan first.”

DeGroot decried “Madigan’s rules” as allowing the Speaker too much power over the legislative agenda to the exclusion of “all other 117 members, both Democrats and Republicans,” Capitolfax quoted him as saying. “These rules allow Speaker Madigan to determine what legislation lives and dies.”

What average voters may not know is that whenever the General Assembly turns over biennially, the state House implements an obscure package of regulations determining how the legislature processes and makes decisions on bills. Madigan has been considered by some to unduly control the body’s agenda by virtue of using the rules of the House of Representatives to his own advantage.

State Rep. Elaine Nekritz (D- Northfield Township) said Illinois’ House rules function as overwhelmingly powerful to the detriment of the assembly.

“The way our House rules operate, I think they are more restrictive than any other legislature in the country and create a lot of control in the speaker,” Nekritz told Stateline Profile in 2013.

State Rep. Kelly Cassidy (D-Chicago) described her desire to force the Speaker to consider better options. She vocalized constituents’ frustration with Madigan in a recent email to Capitolfax, but at the same time cautioned that Madigan is not the only party responsible for Illinois’ budget stalemate.

“I intend instead to continue to forcefully push him towards more thoughtful solutions and alternative policies that will actually help the people we serve, along with a more open process to allow more ideas to come to the floor,” Cassidy told Capitolfax.

State Rep. Stephanie Kifowit (D-Oswego), in a House inauguration speech made at the University of Illinois-Springfield this month, said “democracy is always best in the public and should be held up to public comments and our ideas should be given a true debate. If we shine the light of day on our deliberations, I believe… compromise and working together will happen. To restore trust we should all do our jobs in public.”

State Rep. Steve Andersson (R-Geneva) is the House Republican floor leader. In a recent column appearing in the State Journal-Register, he acknowledged that the biennial vote to adopt procedural rules has, for 32 out of the last 34 years, consistently “been drafted in a manner that consolidates control with one individual — Speaker Michael Madigan —allowing him to circumvent our representative democracy.”

Andersson said the system has failed by citing specific examples, noting that the speaker can determine which bills are allowed to be voted on and when the votes will be held. Secondly, the Rules Committee is strictly controlled by three of Madigan’s most loyal “stalwarts,” posing inequity in presumed neutrality.

“Rank-and-file members receive little or no notice and therefore don’t have the ability to prepare for amendments to legislation that are about to be debated in a committee or legislation that will be considered for passage on the House floor,” said Andersson via his column. “When considering that at any given moment there are hundreds upon hundreds of bills ready to be called for a vote, no one, including our constituents, benefits.”

Moreover, he said, and “most egregious,” is that the speaker’s rulings cannot be appealed — in other words, no one can question them.

“We have the opportunity to return representative democracy to the people by rejecting Speaker Madigan’s rules and making reforms to restore fairness that will allow legislators of both parties, to advocate for the people of their districts,” Andersson said. “I hope that when it comes time to vote, Democrats and Republicans will stand together and say, ‘Enough is enough,’ and oppose Speaker Madigan’s rules. Let’s return power back to the 118 members of the House and break the power of one.”

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