The race to become Speaker of the House in Illinois took a dramatic turn on Monday when Speaker Mike Madigan suspended his campaign for the post, leaving potential contenders scrambling to shore up their support.
“This is not a withdrawal. I have suspended my campaign for speaker,” Madigan said in a statement. “I have always put the best interest of the House Democratic Caucus, and our members, first.
The announcement was just the latest turn in an ongoing drama over who will end up in the top position in the House. Madigan fell short of the 60 votes required to retain the position during a vote of the Illinois Democratic caucus on Sunday, and with a group of House Democrats staunchly against his reelection bid, Madigan is suspending his campaign to potentially allow another candidate to hit the 60-vote plateau.
Madigan’s support has ebbed since federal prosecutors implicated him in a bribery scandal involving ComEd. The feds did not charge him with any wrongdoing, but the ongoing controversy surrounding the case has eaten into Madigan’s support among House Democrats, with at least 19 saying they will not vote for the speaker under any circumstances.
Madigan has been house speaker for nearly four decades, but with the opposition of several high-profile members of his caucus, he is leaving the door open for another lawmaker to assume the speakership.
“Years and years of negative publicity have finally caught up to him,” Bernie Schoenburg, a longtime columnist at the State Journal-Register, said. “The members who said they would not vote for him, the 19 which I guess grew to 22 (in the initial vote Sunday), I don’t see how any of them take that back.”
While many lawmakers are uncertain of what Madigan’s statement means for the state of the race, GOP leader Jim Durkin says that the statement leaves doubt about the speaker’s true intentions.
“(It is) typical of his style and appears to be another ploy or a head fake,” he said.
If Madigan does not re-engage in the process, the question over which lawmaker could get the votes necessary remains a wide open one. Reps. Ann Williams and Stephanie Kifowit both have announced their candidacy for the position, with Kelly Cassidy, Chris Welch, Jay Hoffman and Jehan Gordon Booth all potentially interested in throwing their hats into the ring as well.
Lawmakers will be sworn in for the next legislative session on Wednesday, but the House cannot get down to business until a new speaker is chosen, posing potential issues for the candidates chasing down Madigan’s position.
“This will be a very long fight because there are many people who have been waiting in the wings to be the Speaker of the House in Illinois,” Rep. LaShawn Ford said.
How long that fight will last remains to be seen, but many political observers and leaders in Springfield are steeling themselves for a protracted fight. Such a battle would not be without precedent, as the 1975 speaker’s race took two weeks to resolve.