The Legislative Black Caucus in the Illinois House of Representatives on Wednesday backed Speaker Michael Madigan for another term in the powerful post as the embattled lawmaker faces an uphill battle to retain the leadership role he's held for decades.
"After analysis, we believe our caucus is in a more advantageous position under the leadership of Speaker Madigan to deliver on our priorities," the caucus said in a statement after holding a forum on Saturday for Madigan and one other candidate for speaker to make their case for why they should receive the caucus' support.
"We have a daunting task ahead of us to repair harm done to black communities because of long standing systemic disinvestment, the challenges stemming from COVID-19 and of course the underlying reasons why it is important to pass the Black Caucus’ Policy Agenda: Criminal Justice & Police Reform; Education & Workforce Development; Economic Access; and Access to Health Care," the statement continued.
"The members of the House Illinois Legislative Black Caucus have taken a Caucus position in support of Representative Mike Madigan as Speaker for the next General Assembly. We need a Speaker that will provide strong, consistent leadership and support for the challenges ahead," the caucus said, adding, "It’s time to refocus on the work in front of us and be prepared to start the next General Assembly’s business immediately."
There are 22 members of the Black Caucus, one of whom has previously independently said he will not support Madigan.
A lawmaker who attended the forum Saturday said Madigan focused on two points in addressing members: that he was the person best suited to handle redistricting, scheduled to take place this year following the 2020 census, and that he plans to work with Gov. J.B. Pritzker on fixing the state's budget woes - noting that if the governor asks for a tax increase following the failure of the state's graduated income tax proposal, Madigan would work to help pass it.
Madigan also told caucus members that he is open to another Black member of his leadership team, an attendee of the forum said.
Madigan appears to be at least six votes short of the 60 needed to be elected speaker for another term after 19 Democratic members of the House have publicly said they would not support him in the upcoming vote in January.
The lawmakers' rebuke comes as Madigan faces intensifying scrutiny after he was implicated in a multiple court filings alleging a yearlong bribery scheme by ComEd to influence him in exchange for legislation favorable to the company.
The federal probe into the alleged scheme has resulted in indictments for four of the utility company's former executives or consultants, one of which has long been a Madigan confidante. All four pleaded not guilty earlier this month to multiple counts of bribery conspiracy, bribery and willfully falsifying records.
Madigan, who is the longest serving statehouse speaker in U.S. history, holding the position for all but two years since 1983, and also chairs the Democratic Party of Illinois, has not been charged with any criminal wrongdoing.
He has repeatedly denied the allegations laid out by prosecutors, saying in part that if a conspiracy to influence him did occur, "it was never made known" to him and if it had been, it "would have been profoundly unwelcome."
Still, a total of 19 Democratic lawmakers have publicly said they do not support Madigan for speaker in light of the allegations, some after the indictments in November and others after a deferred prosecution agreement was filed in federal court in July.
In that filing, investigators revealed that the utility company agreed to pay $200 million dollars in fines and admitted to arranging jobs and payments for associates of an elected official, referred to only as “Public Official A," from 2011 to 2019 to curry favor with the official and ultimately pass legislation favorable to ComEd.
That court filing, as well as the indictment filed Wednesday, identifies the official not by name but as "Public Official A" and the speaker of the Illinois House, a description that fits only Madigan.
"The company admitted that it arranged for jobs and vendor subcontracts for Public Official A’s political allies and workers even in instances where those people performed little or no work that they were purportedly hired by ComEd to perform," the U.S. Attorney's Office said in a statement when the agreement with ComEd was announced on July 17.
In exchange, prosecutors said the General Assembly "considered bills and passed legislation that had a substantial impact on ComEd’s operations and profitability, including legislation that affected the regulatory process used to determine the electricity rates ComEd charged its customers."
Madigan again denied any wrongdoing or knowledge of the alleged scheme after his longtime associate, former lawmaker and lobbyist Michael McClain, was indicted, along with three others, including the former CEO of ComEd.
"After a lengthy investigation, the U.S. Attorney's Office has charged, but of course has not proven, that certain ComEd employees, consultants and lobbyists allegedly conspired with one another in the hope of somehow influencing me in my official capacity," Madigan said. "Let me be clear: if that attempt ever happened, it was never made known to me. If it had been known to me, it would have been profoundly unwelcome."
"Nothing in either this indictment or in the earlier filings by the U.S. Attorney's Office alleges otherwise," he continued. "In addition, nothing in this indictment or in the earlier filing alleges that I did anything in my official capacity related to ComEd's legislative agenda as a result of whatever internal decisions ComEd made or didn't make. Any such allegation would be false."
"If there was an attempt to influence me in my official capacity, it failed, although knowing most of the people who were charged, I doubt there was any scheme as characterized by the government."
Madigan said last month that he planned to remain a candidate for speaker after calling members to gauge their support.
"The decision on the next speaker of the Illinois House will be made at a caucus, after a full discussion of the issues facing our state and the qualifications of the candidates," Madigan said on Nov. 20. "I plan to be a candidate for speaker, and today I confirmed that I continue to have support from a significant number of House Democratic caucus members."
To be elected speaker of the House, a lawmaker in the chamber must receive 60 votes. Democrats won 73 of the House's 118 seats in the general election earlier this month, meaning if those 19 members do vote against Madigan in January, that would leave him with 54 votes at most - at least six below the threshold.
No legislative action can be taken prior to the election of the speaker, according to House rules, meaning a lawmaker must reach 60 votes to assume the leadership role before the session can begin, bills can be introduced or any action can be taken.