SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - State Sen. Iris Martinez, a respected and influential state and national Democratic Party leader, on Thursday joined a burgeoning group of Democratic lawmakers — all women — calling for Michael Madigan to relinquish his decades-long grip on Illinois politics by resigning as party leader, House speaker, or both after he was implicated in a federal bribery investigation.
Two others making similar demands Thursday bring to seven the number of Democratic women in the General Assembly wanting Madigan to surrender his virtual control of the Capitol after federal prosecutors named him in a criminal investigation. In the July 17 deferred prosecution agreement, ComEd acknowledged it used bribes in Springfield to get legislation favorable to the utility giant and the document says it involved the speaker of the House, without naming the 78-year-old Madigan.
“It’s very clear in what you’re reading in the ComEd document,” said Martinez, the DNC’s Hispanic Caucus chairwoman and a state party committeewoman for 26 years. “You know nothing happens in Springfield without the speaker signing off. You don’t have to read between the lines to see what is going on.”
Madigan, who has been at the House helm for 35 of the past 37 years — the longest tenure of any legislative leader in U.S. history — has not been charged with wrongdoing. In a statement released late Thursday, he repeated his assertion of inculpability and “will continue to lead the effort to defeat Donald Trump” and add Democrats to Capitol Hill and the Statehouse.
“I understand that the last couple of weeks have been difficult for our caucus and party, and I have had many candid conversations with members of the Democratic caucus on this matter,” Madigan said. “The feedback is positive and demonstrates continued support for me and my leadership roles. I have no plans to resign.”
The others joining Martinez, who wants Madigan out as party chairman to prevent a “distraction” at the presidential nominating convention next month, on Thursday were Reps. Stephanie Kifowit of Oswego and Kelly Cassidy of Chicago. Earlier, Sen. Melinda Bush of Grayslake, a leader on sexual-harassment prevention, and Heather Steans of Chicago, a Senate budget negotiator, came out for Madigan’s resignation of one or both posts.
Rep. Terra Costa Howard of Glen Ellyn has joined the call. After Bush, the earliest to step up, not surprisingly, was first-term Rep. Anne Stava-Murray of Naperville, who pledged in her 2018 campaign not to back Madigan and was the only House member to vote against him for an 18th term as speaker last year.
Women have put the most intense pressure on Madigan in the past three years as he has faced a series of incidents involving charges of sexual harassment, intimidation and more by his staff and House members and the revelation last winter by WBEZ of an email by Madigan confidante Michael McClain seeking leniency from the governor for a state worker who had, among other things, kept quiet about an alleged rape. Martinez urged him to resign after the email’s disclosure.
“Women have been bullied over there for a long time,” Martinez said. “As women, we have to fight harder while the men take care of the men.”
In speaking up, the Democrats risk, in some cases, their political lifeline. Madigan currently sits on three campaign chests totaling $20 million and with that largesse and his party leadership, can make or break politicans in the Capitol and beyond. But most, like Martinez, have at least a recent history of criticizing the speaker and his alleged missteps.
“We’re not part of the boys’ club, that’s for sure,” Stava-Murray said.
Nonetheless, what the dissenters are seeking could end a campaign-cash gravy train and worse, upend the Democratic party and disrupt the legislative agenda.
“I spent a lot of sleepless nights, a lot of general reflection, kept re-reading the ComEd document,” Kifowit said. “But it’s almost beyond words, the feeling you get, staring at that document, reading it in black and white. It’s, it’s just a betrayal of the public trust.”
But it’s Illinois, and politics always takes a seat near the front.
“Defeating Donald Trump is a priority matter for all Democrats,” Martinez said. “Every day that Madigan remains chairman of (the party) is another day we are focused on Madigan’s controversies instead of our critical electoral contests.