Mike Madigan not active in 2022 election, but still a factor

In addition to clinging stubbornly to his post of 13e A member of the Democratic district committee, there are no indicted outward signs that former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan is playing an active role in national or local politics in 2022.

That won’t stop Democrats in the November ballot from facing another election season with Madigan as a major campaign issue to defend against.

Attacks on Madigan’s influence on state government have been part of the Republican campaign’s playbook in Illinois since at least as far back as the election of Bruce Rauner in 2014.

Although the results were mixed, the combined effect reached critical mass in the 2020 election when anti-Madigan sentiment was credited with defeating both a Democratic state Supreme Court justice seeking to be retained and a constitutional amendment proposed to allow for a graduated income tax backed by Gov JB Pritzker.

There’s no reason to think it’s going to stop now that Madigan, who resigned from his seat in the Illinois House more than a year ago, has been charged with racketeering and bribery by prosecutors federal.

In fact, Madigan is expected to be bigger than ever this fall, despite many other issues vying for center stage such as gas prices, crime, abortion, finances state and government response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s a mighty, powerful force,” a Republican consultant said of why Madigan will remain a major campaign issue.

Madigan looms large in the gubernatorial race, where one of the leading GOP contenders, Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin, has signaled his intention to tie Pritzker to the former president while portraying himself as the guy who “beat” Madigan. It’s a reference to his 2017 mayoral election against state Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia, which the speaker supported.

The other perceived Republican frontrunner, State Sen. Darren Bailey, R-Xenia, has taken to referring to Irvin as a “mini-Mike Madigan” for the suburban mayor’s own alleged ethical shortcomings.

Republican gubernatorial candidates Richard Irvin, left, and Darren Bailey, right, in May.

Rich Hein; File Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

But regardless of who gets the GOP nomination, Madigan should be a problem for Democratic gubernatorial candidates on the ballot.

Indeed, the use of Madigan as a symbol of Illinois political corruption not only motivates the Republican base, but also resonates with many independent voters. In the current primary cycle, even some Democrats are attacking their opponents for being too close to Madigan.

Some of Madigan’s attacks can border on stupid, such as Irvin’s dishonest campaign ads claiming that if elected governor he will not reduce Madigan’s prison term. I say dishonest because Madigan faces federal criminal charges, and even if convicted of those charges, no governor in Illinois would have the power to reduce his sentence.

But Pritzker has a few vulnerabilities on Madigan’s front. He won the Democratic nomination by forging an alliance with Madigan in 2018, injected millions of dollars to support the House of Speakers campaign apparatus and was slower than others in his party to lobby for ousting Madigan after the emergence of the Commonwealth Edison affair.

Republicans can also be expected to cite Pritzker for picking Madigan-backed people for state posts and boards and for including questionable Madigan pork-barrel spending plans in his Rebuild Illinois program.

“JB Pritzker owes voters an explanation for why he helped fund the Madigan Criminal Enterprise, hired Madigan cronies, and said Illinois should be ‘thankful’ for the president’s corrupt tenure,” said Irvin campaign spokeswoman Eleni Demertzis.

Eliza Glezer, spokeswoman for Pritzker’s campaign, responded, “The GOP doesn’t have real policy positions, so as usual they will try to talk about anything but their own issues.” They would love nothing more than to race against someone who isn’t even on the ballot to distract from their own history of corruption involving paying scandals, obstructing justice and concluding agreements for those around them.

Democrats have previously previewed their “best defense is a good offense” strategy through campaign ads that portray Irvin as the corrupt, a message Bailey replicated with a Madigan twist.

“Pritzker’s corruption and extreme policies and Irvin’s corrupt record as mini Mike Madigan speak for themselves. They both lack the integrity to lead Illinois, and it’s time to change direction,” Bailey spokesman Joe DeBose said.

The trial of Madigan confidant Michael McClain and former Commonwealth Edison CEO Anne Pramaggiore is set to begin on September 12, which would put the case in the headlines amid election season.

Mike McClain, left;  Mike Madigan, right.

Mike McClain, left; Mike Madigan, right.

Madigan is not a defendant in this particular case, but the charges revolve entirely around alleged illegal efforts by company executives and lobbyists to influence him. Madigan’s own trial on charges related to ComEd and other matters has not been scheduled.

Democrats exploited former Republican Gov. George Ryan’s corruption scandal in their political messaging long after his name disappeared from the ballot, and I can’t blame Republicans for doing the same with Madigan.

Don’t be surprised if Madigan still emerges as an issue in the 2024 election.

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