|House Speaker Mike Madigan’s prowess for political longevity is unmatched in modern America.
In his 17th term leading the Illinois House of Representatives, Madigan has broken the record as the longest-serving House speaker in modern U.S. history.
Madigan has now controlled his chamber as speaker for more than 11,900 days, surpassing South Carolina lawmaker Solomon Blatt. Blatt was speaker of the South Carolina House of Representatives for roughly 11,894 days.
It’s difficult to know whether any 18th or 19th century politicians bested those marks, but it’s highly implausible, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Madigan spokesman Steve Brown gave a muted response to the occasion, telling the Chicago Tribune the record “didn’t come up – I haven’t discussed it with him.” But Madigan’s actions belie such modesty. At the start of this year’s legislative session, the speaker handed out crystal clocks to his caucus members with the inscription: “The honorable Michael J. Madigan. Longest serving Speaker of a state House of Representatives in United States history.”
Madigan doesn’t just wear the longevity crown, he’s also the most powerful House speaker in the nation. No other state grants its House speaker so much control over the legislative process. And it is with that power Madigan has muzzled debate on issues such as term limits.
In addition to his speakership, Madigan’s also been the state Democratic Party chairman since 1998. In fact, he’s the only House speaker in the nation who also serves as a state party chair, according to the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform.
Every two years since 1970, a relatively small group of voters on Chicago’s Southwest side have elected Madigan to the House. His fellow House members in Springfield then elect their speaker. They chose Madigan for the first time in 1983 after he drew an unprecedented legislative map heavily favoring Democrats, and have continued to choose Madigan all but once since then, when Republicans briefly held a House majority.
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.)
In January, state lawmakers faced unprecedented scrutiny during the typically routine vote for the speakership. Democratic state Rep. Scott Drury of Highwood voted “present,” the first time a House Democrat had cast such a vote for the speaker in 30 years.
Since Madigan first gripped the speaker’s gavel in 1983, the U.S. House of Representatives has had eight speakers. Michigan’s had 11 House speakers in that time. Ditto Missouri, followed by Wisconsin (10 State Assembly speakers), Iowa (nine), Indiana (seven) and Kentucky (six) to round out Illinois’ neighboring states.
Despite drawing the state’s legislative map, Madigan last year lost his supermajority in the House, dropping four Democratic seats on net.
But if Madigan simply retains his majority following the 2018 elections, it’s very likely he will retain the speakership as well. The speaker’s daughter, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, announced in May she will seek re-election to a fifth term in 2018. This would extend her record as the longest-serving attorney general in Illinois history.
The prevailing political wisdom in Springfield is that Lisa Madigan will not run for governor as long as her father stays in his position of outsized power. Her re-election announcement may signal the elder Madigan does not plan to leave office anytime soon.
The next record on the horizon? Longest-serving state lawmaker in Illinois history. That’s currently held by the late Republican state Sen. Richard J. Barr, according to the Council of State Governments. He was a member of the Illinois Senate for 48 consecutive years.
Madigan will seize Barr’s title should he stay in office for two more years.
And if this milestone is any indication, Illinoisans won’t be celebrating.