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Miller: Driving force of Madigan's agenda

Published: Monday, April 7, 2014 9:24 p.m. CDT

Worries about low Democratic turnout in an off-year election for an unpopular governor and Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner’s millions in campaign spending, are obviously driving much of Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan’s personal legislative agenda this year.

“If you’re an African-American on the South Side, what motivates you to vote for Pat Quinn when you wake up election morning?” was the blunt assessment of one longtime Madigan associate last week.

For example, Madigan signaled last week that despite his past reluctance to raise the minimum wage and longtime alliance with the Illinois Retail Merchants Association (which is leading the charge against it), he’s not opposed. Calling the idea a matter of “fairness” and “equity,” Madigan told reporters last week “I think you’ll find the opposition to raising the minimum wage comes from people that have done pretty well in America, and for some strange reason they don’t want others in America to participate in prosperity.”

Asked if he was referring to Rauner, Madigan asked “Who?”

And the Speaker’s proposed constitutional amendment to place a 3 percent surcharge on income over $1 million retroactive to this past Jan. 1st was moved forward on the House floor last week. No Republicans have yet to emerge as supporters, so Madigan will likely need all 71 of his members to pass the proposal, which requires a three-fifths super majority.

Madigan has long been known as a politician who prizes pragmatism above ideology, but he’s been about as loyal an ally to the trade unions as anyone in Illinois history. However, that’s not solely about ideology. Those unions provide a lot of money and foot soldiers to Madigan’s organization.

Rauner also apparently didn’t use a back door channel to Madigan during the primary, which meant there was little-to-no ongoing communication between the men. Things obviously got out of control.

The Democratic legislative district map is pretty solid (as I reported in a recent Crain’s Chicago Business column, in 2012, House Democratic candidates received 53 percent of all the votes cast in all House races statewide, yet they won 60 percent of the House races), and they’ve been successfully fending off the House Republicans for years.

But Madigan’s poll numbers aren’t good at all, to put it mildly, so there are plenty of other weapons in Rauner’s arsenal. This could very well escalate into an all-out war. And Rauner has the bucks to do it.

• Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.

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