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Dan McCaleb

Dan McCaleb

Let's be clear: Michael Madigan never should have held the roles of chairman of the Illinois Democratic Party and speaker of the Illinois House simultaneously.

Not for one year. Not for one month. Not for one day.

But Madigan has held both leadership roles for 20 years.

Yes, 20 years.

He's been House speaker for all but two years since 1983. He's been chairman of the state Democratic Party since 1998.

The most powerful man in Illinois politics for more than two decades has helped lead the state to the fiscal brink.

So it's refreshing to finally hear some new voices, especially within the Democratic Party and the news media, calling for Madigan to step down from at least one of his roles.

And amid the growing sexual harassment and bullying scandal enveloping Madigan's political organization, the critics are growing louder.

Within the past 10 days, Madigan has been forced to fire two campaign workers accused of inappropriate behavior involving subordinates that date to 2016. Last week, it was campaign supervisor Kevin Quinn, accused of stalking contract employee Alaina Hampton with dozens of aggressive text messages over several months beginning in 2016.

Quinn was fired a year after Hampton first brought her sexual harassment complaint to Madigan's top political lieutenant, who also happens to be Quinn's brother. Hampton said her allegations were covered up by Madigan. The only reason Quinn finally was fired, Hampton says, is because she decided to take her story to the media. Then on Monday, Madigan let go of volunteer Shaw Decremer, who was accused of behaving inappropriately with a candidate and staff in 2016.

As a result of these revelations in the midst of the national #MeToo movement, a small wave of Democrats finally are acknowledging Madigan has too much power.

"I don't think any state has ever had somebody where you have a Senate president or a speaker of a House who also chairs a party," state Sen. Heather Steans, D-Chicago, told Illinois News Network on Wednesday. "I think that's good practice to separate those [responsibilities]. ... I just think there are some inherent conflicts that can come about as a result of that."

As House speaker for more than three decades, Madigan established the rules that determine how new legislation works its way through the House. He kills legislation he doesn't like by sending it to die a quick death in the Rules Committee he controls. He also redraws legislative districts after the U.S. Census every 10 years, moving boundaries around to ensure he maintains Democratic majorities in both state chambers.

As state party chairman, Madigan controls the campaign dollars that Democratic candidates need to win races. He also uses the campaign cash to punish party members who are not loyal to him.

"Over the past week, we have learned of multiple instances of unaddressed allegations of sexual misconduct, domestic abuse and more by men who hold power over women in Mike Madigan's political machine," Democratic attorney general candidate Sharon Fairley wrote on Facebook. "... Obviously, a culture exists that sanctions this kind of behavior and a code of silence that protects the abusers. Speaker Madigan should step down as the chair of the Democratic Party of Illinois — and as House Speaker — before he allows these transgressions to cause permanent damage to our party."

State Sen. Daniel Biss, D-Evanston, one of the leading candidates for the Democratic nomination for Illinois governor, said Madigan is not fit to lead the party.

"Time’s up for Mike Madigan and the political machine he controls," Biss said. "After Alaina Hampton bravely came forward, Madigan had an opportunity to lead, and chose to make more backroom deals. These actions demonstrate he cannot and should not lead our party, and also cause us to seriously question his role as Speaker of the House. In the best interest of justice and truth, and to protect the women who have bravely come forward, Madigan should immediately resign from his position as chairman of the Democratic Party of Illinois."

Other prominent Democrats calling for Madigan to be removed as party chairman include state Sen. Kwame Raoul, also a candidate for attorney general; governor candidate Chris Kennedy; and state Rep. Scott Drury, who in January 2017 became the first House Democrat in 30 years not to vote re-elect Madigan as speaker. Last week, Drury called out fellow House Democrats to force Madigan's resignation.

“The fact is that he rules this house with an iron fist,” Drury said. “And there’s no way this harassment was going on in this capitol, in his ward organization, without him knowing about it.”

The State Journal-Register in Springfield, in an editorial in Wednesday's edition, also called on Democrats to replace Madigan as party chairman.

"The concentration of power that Madigan holds isn’t healthy for Illinois Democrats," SJ-R's editorial board wrote. "They should no longer accept that the speaker can also be the party chairman. It’s time for the state’s Democrats to demand change. They can start by insisting Madigan step down as chairman."

Over 30-plus years in power, Madigan has survived too many controversies to count, in large part because of the power he accumulated both in the Democratic Party and the Illinois House. Never before have so many members of his own party called for a check on his power.

It begs a question: Will Madigan listen?

Dan McCaleb is news director of Illinois News Network, a project of the Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity, a non-profit media company dedicated to the principles of transparency, accountability and fiscal responsibility. His columns include his own opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinion or editorial position of The Southern. Contact Dan at


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