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Illinois’ old political machine may be dying.  We don’t know what takes its place.


The public probably can’t separate the myth from the facts about Madigan, but most elected Democrats couldn’t really complain about his results in the General Assembly or at the polls. Then, after decades in power, the Federal Inquiry into Commonwealth Edison proved to be the main topic of discussion last year for Republicans, who splashed the public service scandal in campaign ads – without ever forgetting to pin the story on Madigan.

Currie acknowledged that a federal investigation into Commonwealth Edison admitting corruption and influence peddling played a role in Madigan’s exit. He was not charged with wrongdoing, but his associates were, and it hovered over work in the Legislature and the 2020 election campaign. “There were people who had it. supported and then said we couldn’t do that anymore, ”Currie said.

After the 2020 election, where Republicans successfully defeated Madigan-backed Democratic congressional candidate Betsy Dirksen Londrigan, and a progressive income tax ballot initiative backed by Governor JB Pritzker, many Democrats have felt it was time for them to cut Madigan. Pritzker, a liberal Jewish billionaire who had never held public office before and who financed his own campaign, openly called on the speaker to tackle the “ethical cloud that hangs over his head.” And Democratic Senator Dick Durbin has tabled Londrigan’s defeat at Madigan’s feet on local television. By the end of November 2020, enough members of Madigan’s caucus – the people with the power to take his hammer away – had abandoned him, laying the groundwork for his departure the following February.

Enter the unknown

Those who succeed Madigan may appreciate its efficiency but will want to free itself from its luggage.

Welch, the new speaker, and Kelly, a new party chair, have so far promoted transparency and collaboration. They encourage more of their allies to participate in decision-making and strategy, which in government or politics usually means more layers, more discussion, and more time. This made the political center of gravity more decentralized.

State Representative Deb Conroy, a Madigan critic who chaired the House Democratic Women’s Caucus and is now the Women’s Caucus Whip, said lawmakers were already crafting better policy following her departure.

A recent clean energy bill aimed at reducing carbon emissions was passed after months of talks between environmentalists, unions, lawmakers and Commonwealth Edison, the utility whose pay-to-play scandal helped start Madigan. Jobs in the coal industry were on the line, nuclear power plants threatened to shut down, and Pritzker wanted a climate victory. The process was messy – something Madigan wouldn’t have tolerated – and forced lawmakers to hold a rare special session to pass it in September. Some lawmakers said the bill was stronger because of the more deliberative process, but some complained that the former president would have done it faster.

“It’s true,” Conroy said. “Not everyone will be happy when it’s good policy. When you force something through, there are more winners and losers, and you end up with 71 [votes] instead of the 83 who approved it with 13 Republican votes included. I don’t think this would have happened in the past.

And when it comes to money, the Illinois Democratic Party has already been forced to diversify its political fundraising and the way it supports politicians statewide – not just candidates for the House of Commons. ‘State that were Madigan’s priority. It’s a change some loyal Democrats are hailing: The party says it has attracted 350 new backers for the first time since Kelly became president in September.

“As a donor, one of my fears is always that [politicians] raise money just to raise money, “said Robert Clifford, personal injury lawyer and top donor to Illinois and National Democrats including Obama and Hillary Clinton, who supports the new process. “It goes into a black hole rather than really working for a candidate. When I write a check for a candidate, I have a better chance of evaluating that candidate rather than donating to the bigger party.

What happens to Madigan’s fingerprints on the Democratic exit-from-vote operation, known as the “program,” may remain unclear until election season is in high gear. Yet perhaps the biggest deviation from Madigan’s path – in a state that has long avoided term limits for mayors, lawmakers, and governors – is Welch’s interest in capping the presidency at 10 years. .

But despite all the changes, former Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn, a proud Irishman who hasn’t aligned with Madigan or Richard M. Daley, still sees one fatal flaw: The state’s transactional policy won’t change, has he said – regardless of color – without new ways of holding politicians to account. “We do not have an initiative process where voters can write ethical measures on the ballot,” he said, also noting the absence of conflict of interest laws that could prohibit lawmakers to vote on laws that they personally have. or financial interest. “This is the essence of machine politics.”

Illinois lawmakers recently passed a series of ethical reforms in their 2021 session, including banning lawmakers from being employed as lobbyists under certain circumstances and requiring lawmakers to wait six months before becoming lobbyists. lobbyists if they leave before the end of their mandate.

Quinn, who served as governor from 2009 to 2015, summed up the law as “weak soup”.

After all, while Madigan has stepped down from his most important positions, he still sits on the Democratic State Central Committee, the political body that provides the infrastructure and helps support candidates. And he remains the boss of Chicago’s 13th Ward, with his say over local political and judicial candidates, and the power to assign jobs and prioritize certain city departments.

And from Illinois House Minority Leader Jim Durkin’s perspective, nothing has changed. Just look at the recent redistribution changes by the Democrats, he said, where the Democrats have factored in a series of political calculations.

“Virtually every House Democrat – including President Welch – has campaigned at one point or another or indicated in an Editorial Board questionnaire that politicians shouldn’t be busy drawing cards,” Durkin said in a telephone interview. “But look at the legislative maps, Supreme Court redistribution map and Congress map.”

The redistribution panel that recently established new political boundaries in Illinois were also veterans of the process – and former Madigan allies, lawyers and aides.

“The Irish are gone but the machine is in full swing, and they are spinning full speed ahead,” said Durkin.

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