Some time next spring, Michael Madigan will become the longest-serving state House Speaker in American history.
The current record is held by Thomas Bailey Murphy, who ruled the Georgia House of Representatives for 29 years, from 1973 to 2002.
First elected speaker in 1982, Madigan has held the job for all but two years -- 1995 and 1996, when Lee Daniels sneaked in, as a beneficiary of Newt Gingrich’s “Republican Revolution.” Madigan long ago eclipsed the Illinois record of 11 years, held by Republican David Shanahan, who served from 1915-21, 1923-25 and 1929-32.
Shanahan served at a time when it was customary for speakers to only serve a term or two, and when control of the House passed back and forth between parties more often. One reason for that was “plunk” system, in which every district sent three representatives to Springfield -- two Democrats and a Republican, or two Republicans and a Democrat. (After Shanahan died in 1932, Bridgeport Democrats hijacked the district’s Republican line, asking voters to write in “Richard J. Daley.” Daley switched parties as soon as he arrived in the Capitol.
Since the House switched to single-member districts, as the result of a ballot initiative pushed by Pat Quinn, Madigan has been all-powerful. So powerful he now has the first supermajority of his career, controlling 71 of the House’s 118 seats.
Madigan has a few things in common with Murphy. Both reigned as political bosses whose style was formed in an earlier period in their state’s history. In Murphy’s case, it was an era when rural courthouse gangs dominated Georgia politics. In Madigan’s case, it’s been the Democratic machine that reached its maximum effectiveness under his first patron, Mayor Richard J. Daley.
According to the New Georgia Encyclopedia, Murphy “could with the nod of his head make or break legislation.”
“After each national census Murphy presided over the reapportionment of the congressional house districts,” the encyclopedia relates. “Critics of the process argued that the map of the reapportioned districts was gerrymandered to favor Democrats. In the reapportionment battles of 1991 and 2001, Murphy engineered the abolition of the congressional seats of Republicans Newt Gingrich (1991) and Bob Barr (2001). Murphy's action was viewed as typical of his hardball politics.”
That also sounds like our man Madigan. If you want to hold on to power for a long time, clench it in an iron fist, and never let it go.
Murphy’s career ended because Georgia became a Republican state during his career. Illinois has become more and more Democratic since Madigan took over as speaker. At 71, he shows inclination to retire, and could conceivably rule for another decade, setting a record that will stand for generations