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Madigan Suspends Campaign for Speaker After Falling Short on Votes, But Is Not Officially Out

Embattled Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan (D-Chicago) stunned Illinois' political sphere on Monday morning, announcing he would suspended his campaign for a historic 19th term as leader of the House after falling short on the support he needs in a first round vote Sunday night.

Madigan, who has been House Speaker for all but two years since 1983, only received 51 votes from the House Democratic Caucus in a private meeting Sunday night — the first of a series to determine who among Madigan and three challengers has the support to be elected speaker Wednesday when the new General Assembly is sworn in.

But on Monday, Madigan insisted his campaign suspension is “not a withdrawal.”  

“As I have said many times in the past, I have always put the best interest of the House Democratic Caucus and our members first,” Madigan said in a statement.

Read more: Madigan Comes Up Short In First Caucus Vote For Speaker — But So Does Everyone Else

A winner needs 60 votes, and while Madigan fell short, his next-closest competitor, State Rep. Ann Williams (D-Chicago) fell much shorter, garnering 18 votes. State Rep. Stephanie Kifowit (D-Oswego) received three votes. A third challenger, State Rep. Kathleen Willis (D-Addison), a member of Madigan’s leadership team who shocked colleagues last month by saying she couldn’t support Madigan’s bid for speakership, dropped out of the race in the middle of caucus Sunday night.

Now that the caucus faces a political conundrum, Madigan issued a dare to his members:

“The House Democratic Caucus can work to find someone, other than me, to get 60 votes for Speaker,” Madigan said in his statement.

With House members facing a Wednesday noon deadline to select the Speaker, Democrats are put in a tight political spot. House Rules stipulate that no legislative business can be considered until a speaker is elected, setting up days or possibly weeks of stalemate as the state faces historic crises in the COVID-19 pandemic and a $4 billion budget hole. Black Caucus members are also hoping to get their massive equity-focused legislative agenda through before Wednesday morning, and told reporters Sunday night they’re depending on Madigan to draw new legislative districts this year that protect Black voters.

Madigan suspending his campaign — but not withdrawing — could indicate he’s willing to let his caucus descend into chaos before they realize he’s the only one for the job. But with 19 House Democrats dug into their positions, and another three emerging against Madigan on Sunday night, reversing course for that largely white female block of legislators may be impossible.

Madigan has steadily lost support from his colleagues in the House — and other high-profile Illinois Democrats — since July, when federal prosecutors named him “Public Official A” in a deferred prosecution agreement filed against electric utility Commonwealth Edison, laying out a years-long bribery scheme carried out by ComEd to curry favor with Madigan.

Madigan has denied wrongdoing and has not been charged. But pressure has mounted throughout the fall as more details about the alleged scheme have come to light in the form of indictments against longtime Madigan confidant Mike McClain — a former ComEd lobbyist — and two other lobbyists for the utility, plus the ex-CEO of ComEd’s parent company in November, all connected with the scheme. A former ComEd VP also pleaded guilty to the scheme in September.

The night before Thanksgiving, a House Special Investigating Committee that was supposed to be probing whether Madigan committed any acts “unbecoming of a legislator” to determine possible censure, hundreds of emails between McClain, the other actors and Madigan proxies were made available in a data dump. The new information further solidified opposition to Madigan, and Willis became the 19th House member to publicly say she could no longer support the Speaker.

Hannah covers state government and politics for NPR Illinois and Illinois Public Radio. She previously covered the statehouse for The Daily Line and Law360, and also worked a temporary stint at the political blog Capitol Fax in 2018.