The crumbling of House Speaker Michael Madigan’s inner circle amid one ethics scandal after another is the most serious threat to the longest-serving state House Speaker’s power, according to a longtime observer.
Madigan’s longtime chief of staff was fired this week. A leading ally in the House was demoted. Another is retiring. And there are calls for independent investigations into the speaker's office from within his own caucus.
Madigan’s been in the House since 1971. With the exception of a two years in the 1990s, he’s been Speaker since 1983. That’s the longest-serving state House speaker in U.S. history.
University of Illinois at Springfield politics professor emeritus Kent Redfield has been following Illinois politics since 1975.
“This is a much more serious threat to the Speaker’s power and his longevity than anytime in my memory,” Redfield said.
Earlier this year, two of Madigan's political operatives also were outed for inappropriate behavior. Political operative Kevin Quinn allegedly made unwanted advances toward campaign staffer Alaina Hampton during the 2016 election cycle. He was fired, but only after Chicago media outlets were preparing to publish the story in February. Within that same week, another campaign operative, Shaw Decremer, left Madigan’s operation after claims he was creating a hostile environment in a political campaign.
Hampton sued in federal court, claiming she was retaliated against for trying to report the harassment internally. Madigan’s team motioned to have the case thrown out last week.
Also earlier this year, Madigan unveiled a list of nine different incidents that his statehouse office handled dealing with allegations of harassment, intimidation and retaliation spanning five years. When asked if such a pattern reflects a culture within his office, Madigan said “there’s no culture with me … we don’t tolerate inappropriate behavior. We just don’t tolerate it.”
Last week, Sherri Garrett, a Madigan statehouse staffer, came forward with several allegations against Mapes, who served as Madigan's chief of staff. Within hours Mapes resigned at Madigan's request. The week before that, Maryann Loncar, a medical cannabis activist, alleged state Rep. Lou Lang harassed and intimidated her. Within hours, Lang stepped down from his deputy majority leadership post, his post on a commission that writes administrative rules, and another post on a commission that oversees ethics complaints against lawmakers.
A few weeks before that, state Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago
, alleged that Mapes and Madigan ally state Rep. Bob Rita, D-Blue Island, tried to use her part-time job as leverage against her because she was critical of Madigan’s handling of harassment allegations. Rita denied the allegations. Cassidy said Madigan can no longer claim he’s one step removed from attempts at intimidation and retaliation.
Following Cassidy’s allegations, Madigan called for
the special legislative inspector general to investigate his office, but state Sen. Karen McConnaughay, who sits on the commission that oversees the LIG, said there are too many conflicts of interest as a Madigan attorney interviewed the special LIG for the job.
Redfield said with all of this, Madigan will likely be an albatross around some House Democrats' necks this November.
“Most (legislative) districts in Illinois are not competitive,” Redfield said. “It’s not going to make much difference one way or another, but it certainly can become an issue in the targeted districts that do make a difference in terms of who controls the legislature.”