No one should be surprised that House Speaker Michael Madigan, the most powerful Democrat in Springfield for the past 30 years, prefers Republican governors. They’re not a threat to his position as party leader.
On Tuesday, Madigan spoke to an Elmhurst College class taught by former state Rep. Lee Daniels, the only man who has ever managed to wrest the speakership from him. In 1994, the Republican Revolution and the Jim Edgar landslide swept a GOP majority into the state house. It lasted only two years.
Madigan has served with seven governors -- Richard Ogilvie, Dan Walker, Jim Thompson, Jim Edgar, George Ryan, Rod Blagojevich and Pat Quinn. His favorite was Ryan, himself a former House Speaker.
George Ryan loooved to spend money, and legislators loooved him for it. Dan Rostenkowski used to say that being a legislator was more fun than being president, because legislators got to spend, spend, spend. Ryan’s Illinois First program put a road, a bridge and a school in every district in the state. A free-spending Republican governor was Madigan’s idea of Father Christmas.
Here’s what Madigan had to say about Ryan, according to a Sun-Times reporter who attended the class:
“George Ryan wanted a capital program. There were going to be fee increases, tax increases. He started with me. I told him ‘I’m for it — I think you oughta make it bigger.’ He got to Pate Philip. There’s a favorite method in the Legislature with the legislative leaders. The leader doesn’t want to look at the governor and tell him ‘No.’ So they blame their caucus members: ‘Our caucus won’t agree to that.’ Pate used to refer to his caucus members as ‘gorillas.’ It’s true: ‘My gorillas don’t like that.’
“There was this pause. Ryan just looked at him and he said, ‘You said that to me after everything I’ve done for you?’ And then he took him out of the room, took him into a separate room, and closed the door. There was a lot of screaming and shouting. They both came back and sat down and George looked at Pate and Pate said, ‘Governor, there will be enough votes to pass your bill.’ That was George’s method — very effective.”
Madigan’s least favorite governor was Rod Blagojevich, probably because they were both more focused on their political futures than on creating legislation together. Blagojevich wanted to be president, and Madigan wanted his daughter to be governor. As a result, they hated each other's guts.
“That was just confrontation from beginning to end, publicly and privately,” Madigan said. “The idea that there would be sound policy decisions — that was never in the cards. He had a different agenda, all related to what he was going to do later in life.”
Madigan, of course, won that confrontation by impeaching Blagojevich. If there’s one thing the class should have learned about Mike Madigan, it’s that governors come and go, but he is forever. The fact that Lee Daniels was teaching the class should have been proof.
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