The most powerful Democrat politician in the country gets a 33rd year in office

With President Obama soon leaving office, the most powerful Democrat politician in the country remaining in office is a man with a tiny profile in the national news: Michael Madigan, speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives.  Joe Tabor and Ted Drabowski of the Illinois Policy Institute explained the extraordinary power of the Illinois speaker:

… there’s another source of power the majority party of Illinois holds that allows its leaders a more underhanded influence over the legislative process and, ultimately, the daily lives of Illinoisans.

That power emanates from the little-known legislative rules that Illinois House of Representatives Speaker Mike Madigan – who’s held that position for more than 31 years since 1983 – uses on an everyday basis to orchestrate the legislative and political outcomes he wants.

Those rules allow Madigan to influence the makeup of legislative committees; how lawmakers vote; and when, if ever, the bills get voted on. But the most obstructive rule of all keeps bills – even those with popular support, such as term limits – from ever seeing the light of day. Madigan, and not the General Assembly, has the power to decide what has the chance to become law.

Virtually no state grants the types of powers to its legislative heads that Illinois grants to Madigan.

Those rules have contributed to the failed policies that exist in Illinois today and to the fiscal debacle Illinoisans must contend with as they try to make ends meet.

It is widely believed in Illinois that Madigan has far more power than Republican governor Bruce Rauner.  And Madigan’s hold on power is far more certain than that of Rauner, who must face the voters.  Madigan’s elections to the House and as speaker seem to be a foregone conclusion, and his ability to exercise power is unlike any other legislative leader in the country.  As Austin Berg of the Illinois Policy Institute explains: 

Illinois House Democrats re-elected state Rep. Mike Madigan to his longtime post as House speaker Jan. 11.

Madigan is now set to become the longest-serving House speaker in modern U.S. history. By the end of his two-year term in 2019, no American will have held a legislative leadership position for longer.

Madigan won the speakership Wednesday on a 66-51 vote along party lines. All Republicans voted for Burr Ridge state Rep. Jim Durkin. A lone Democrat, Scott Drury of Highwood, voted present. This is the first time a House Democrat has voted “present” for the speaker in 30 years.

The remaining House Democrats cast their votes for Madigan.

Drury, one assumes, is prepared for the vengeance that will be coming his way:

… not a single sitting House Democrat has ever voted for someone other than Madigan for the speakership (setting aside the 1995 vote, when Republicans controlled the chamber.)

The fear of bucking the speaker’s wishes is warranted. He is the most powerful politician in Illinois. And no other state in the country grants as much power to its House speaker as Illinois does Madigan.

If a Democratic House member doesn’t vote for Madigan, he can take away her campaign money, strip her of any leadership roles and even make sure none of her bills get a hearing.

So we can expect Illinois to continue its deep blue ways, running up unpayable pension obligations to public employees who dutifully pay their union dues that are recycled into campaign contributions that keep Democrats in power.

Waiting in the wings: Madigan’s daughter Lisa, Illinois attorney general since 2003.  The state government in Springfield is a great family business for the Madigans.  For Illinois taxpayers, not so much.

Hat tip: Peter von Buol