Illinois voters sent a clear message to the longtime House speaker Nov. 8: “enough.”
House Speaker Mike Madigan is the most powerful man in Illinois politics.
But on Nov. 8, Illinois voters proved he can be beaten. Madigan will no longer control a veto-proof supermajority in the Illinois House.
The election results will likely change what was once the easiest and most obvious vote for House Democrats – Madigan for speaker – into one of the most contentious of the upcoming legislative session.
Voters in five House districts replaced Democrat seats with Republicans, while Madigan’s Democrats picked off just one Republican House member.
The Illinois House requires 71 votes to override a veto from Gov. Bruce Rauner. With the election costing Madigan four seats in the chamber he controls, his 71-member supermajority will drop to a simple majority of 67.
This is a clear rebuke of a man who has held state office since 1971, and who has served as speaker for 31 of the last 33 years.
On Election Day, Madigan’s Assistant House Majority Leader John Bradley lost to Republican Dave Severin. Bradley has voted for a Madigan speakership six times.
Democrat state Rep. Mike Smiddy lost to Republican Tony McCombie. Smiddy has voted for a Madigan speakership twice.
Democrat state Rep. Kate Cloonen lost to Republican Lindsay Parkhurst. Cloonen has voted for a Madigan speakership twice.
Democrat state Rep. Andy Skoog lost to Republican Jerry Long. Skoog was appointed to his seat in 2015 after Madigan’s party operation vetted him.
In a state where the Republican presidential nominee drew a mere 39 percent of the vote, and where Madigan drew the district lines himself, these losses are an embarrassing blow to a man known for his electoral prowess.
But all was not lost for Madigan.
Susana Mendoza, his chosen candidate for comptroller, was victorious over Republican incumbent Leslie Munger. Mendoza voted Madigan into the speakership six times during her tenure in the House of Representatives.
In 2011, she seconded his nomination for speaker of the House. “I’ve had the privilege to serve under his leadership for 10 years now, only a quarter of the time that Illinois has benefitted from his almost 40 years of stewardship,” Mendoza said of the speaker. “Over the last decade, I have witnessed his skills as a leader and a man who time and time again has demonstrated his passion and love for this state and has consistently put Illinois first.”
This is not an opinion most Illinoisans share. Nearly two-thirds of registered voters in Illinois disapprove of the speaker, according to recent polling from the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute.
While Madigan did not retain the Democrat supermajority needed to neuter Rauner’s veto pen, he did retain a strong majority. This means Democrats will be able to choose the speaker of the House come January 2017.
There is not a single sitting House Democrat who has ever voted for someone other than Madigan for the speakership (setting aside the 1995 vote, when the chamber was controlled by Republicans.)
In January, Illinoisans will see whether that miserable trend continues, or if lawmakers are ready to listen to their call for change.