Com Ed 4 trial shows why fixing Illinois House rules vital to stop next Madigan

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Seth Perlman/AP/Shutterstock (6232081a)
Michael Madigan Illinois Speaker of the House Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, waits to address lawmakers at the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield. On, Madigan criticized unions for their stance on the state's pension situation and says their proposal for a summit on the matter is "not timely
Illinois Pensions Speaker, Springfield, USA

Michael Madigan

While the prosecution’s case against the Com Ed 4’s alleged bribery of former Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan is still underway, witness testimony shows how the control Madigan exercised over the legislative process made him a ripe target and warped the system.

What is more, the structures Madigan used to make himself the most powerful man in Springfield remain largely in place. They are ready for another corrupt figure to take over.

Illinois state Rep. Bob Rita, D-Blue Island, told the jury how Madigan ruled through “fear and intimidation,” and how he controlled the flow of legislation, largely through the House Rules used to govern operation of the chamber. Witnesses pointed specifically to the House Rules as one of the key instruments of Madigan’s control.

Former Reps. Scott Drury and Carol Sente testified about the speaker’s use and abuse of the House Rules.

“The House Rules gave the speaker ultimate power,” Drury testified.

The House Rules gave Madigan the authority to appoint committee chairs. Defendant Mike McClain noted that would be needed to “withstand pressure” to pass opponents’ bills.

Both Drury and Sente described losing committee chair positions, which they attributed to displeasing Madigan. Those committee chair positions offered a stipend of over $10,000.

“I did not expect to lose my chairmanship because I was acting in the best interests of my district,” Sente said.

Witnesses pointed particularly to the speaker’s control of the House Rule Committee, which acted as a chokepoint through which Madigan could kill any legislation he didn’t want considered. Madigan’s use of the Rules Committee for that was so well known in the chamber that McClain suggested an alternate path to send disfavored bills to subcommittees to keep Madigan’s “fingerprints” off of the bills’ ultimate demise.

In the previous General Assembly, the Illinois House made steps towards rules reform by requiring all bills be discharged from the Rules Committee in odd-numbered years – the first half of a full term of the state legislature. But that reform was unceremoniously rolled back at the beginning of the current Illinois General Assembly.

Madigan’s power over the legislative process made him an essential ally for lobbyists. Former ComEd attorney Tom O’Neill testified that for then-Senior Executive Vice President and CEO of Exelon Utilities Anne Pramaggiore, “[T]he speaker stood out as the political elected official whose relationship mattered the most.” And former ComEd Vice President Fidel Marquez testified Madigan’s “immense power” would make it difficult to pass legislation without a good relationship with the speaker.

Madigan’s status as the most powerful man in Springfield allegedly made him an irresistible target for lobbyists looking for favorable results in the legislature. Although Madigan is gone, the structures that consolidated the speaker’s power remain.

If Illinois wants to get past Madigan’s corrupt legacy, that structure needs to be dismantled. The House Rules should be first on the list of reforms.

To roll back the speaker’s concentrated power, Illinois should enact the following reforms:

  • 1) Go back to requiring the House Rules Committee refer all bills to a substantive committee in odd-numbered years so each bill has a chance to be heard.
  • 2) Require majority approval of chair and minority spokesperson positions so the speaker cannot use appointments as rewards for loyalty or punishments for dissent.
  • 3) End unnecessary temporary committee substitutes that distort the committee process.
  • 4) Operate the House on a set schedule members can count on so they know what bills will be up for a vote and when.
  • 5) End last-minute “gut and replace” bills that force lawmakers to vote on hundreds of pages of legislation without getting a chance to read them first.

These reforms would put the Illinois House in line with other state legislative chambers and make it that much harder for another Madigan to rise.

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