While many people in the world think of Chicago as the focal point of Illinois, it is really Springfield, a small town in central Illinois with a population of just under 120,000 people that makes the state go. Springfield, like any other city has a local government, with a mayor and city council, but unlike any other city in Illinois, it also has a monarchy, run by its king and the most powerful man in Illinois, Speaker of the House Mike Madigan and his court of legislators, lobbyists, lawyers, and union members. It’s a world that many in the Black community do not understand, but that controls our very existence.
Mike Madigan Background
Mike Madigan is the state representative of the 22nd District, a Southwest Side ward that is centered near Midway Airport. It is composed of Chicago, Burbank, and the Bedford Park communities. Madigan was elected State Representative of the District January 13, 1971, became Speaker of the House in 1983, and has remained in that position since that time, with the exception of two years. Madigan was defeated as Speaker of the House in 1995, when the Republicans Led by Lee Daniels, took control of the Illinois House of Representatives. It is rumored that Madigan, known for his determination, discipline, and relentless pursuit of power began knocking on doors the morning after his defeat, and by the next election in 1997, he retook the House, and has remained the unquestioned leader of Springfield since that time.
Madigan was born a Democrat, the son of a New Deal Democrat father also named Michael, who believed in the benefits government could provide people. He passed that tradition along to his son and namesake, who would eventually ascend to the position of most powerful Democrat in the state. On the path to that title, Madigan, who grew up in the Clearing neighborhood, a predominately Irish Catholic neighborhood, attended St. Adrian’s elementary school, St. Ignatius College Prep, and the University of Notre Dame. He went on to attend law school at Loyola University in Chicago.
Madigan distinguished himself early in his political life by becoming a favorite of Mayor Richard J. Daley. Eventually, Madigan and Daley’s eldest son, Richard M. Daley would start their political careers at the same time, when the two served as delegates to the Illinois Constitutional Convention. Even though Madigan and the younger Daley eventually became bitter rivals, Mayor Richard J. Daley would eventually go on to appoint Madigan to a job in the City Law Department, allowing him to pay for his law school tuition. After completion Madigan partnered up with fellow Loyola graduate Vincent J. “Bud” Getzendanner, Jr. to form Madigan & Getzendanner, a property tax appeals firm. Since forming the law firm, Madigan has saved businesses millions in property taxes, at the same time making himself a millionaire, while fighting for “Democratic values.”
While Madigan himself is a millionaire, he has used his position as Speaker of the House to amass power through the distribution of wealth, jobs, and contracts to build a political organization “so gangster that Don Corleone would be scared to mess with him,” said a Springfield insider who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation. While federal investigations and Shakman decrees have crippled the once powerful Democratic Machine in Illinois, Madigan’s Machine keeps just keeps on rolling. Many complain that Madigan has no real concern for the people, just the power.
They point to his recent financial outpouring of over $200 million for new schools in the Latino community, while CPS was closing over 50 schools in predominately Black neighborhoods. Madigan even jettisoned his White state senator and replaced him with a Latino state senator to burnish his Latino credentials.
The engine that makes the Madigan Machine go is a compliant legislature, willing to go along with the Speaker’s program regardless of the impacts to their community. To ensure compliance, Madigan works hard to make sure that his members have no opponents in their elections. By doing this, Madigan makes it possible for the legislators to defy their communities to do his bidding with no consequence.
With no opponent, most members of the state legislature can take the rose garden approach campaigning, only going where they are fawned over and complimented, never having to answer the tough questions. That insulation is what provides Black legislators in particular the cover from having to explain why the state’s economic resources so often miss the Black community, while making it to areas like Beverly, Oak Lawn, and Evergreen Park. Madigan’s iron fisted control of the legislature is what drives the machine, so Madigan uses whatever tactics necessary, from fear, intimidation, contracts, or oppositional candidates to maintain that control.
Madigan’s ability to manipulate the laws of the land also play a significant role in his power. Madigan employs a team of lawyers that are subject matter experts in every area of the state and in politics. Often times those lawyers are former Madigan staffers and loyalists who have gone on to graduate from law school. During their time in law school, they are generally assigned to Madigan’s consigliere, Atty. Mike Kasper, to handle challenges against Madigan’s House members. Once they have completed law school, those lawyers are dispersed in legal departments throughout state , governmental agencies, and corporations.
While in those positions, they make lucrative salaries and make sure the Speaker’s will is carried out on demand. Madigan also uses law firms to reward political loyalists while staying away from the public scrutiny. Even though lobbyists play a key role in the transfer of money, it is through law firms where Madigan enriches his most loyal subjects and members, by forcing corporations to do business with his preferred law firms. In turn, those law firms raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for Madigan by way of campaign contributions. Outside of labor unions, members of the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association are among Madigan’s top contributors.
While lobbyists have garnered a nefarious reputation, they are key to passing the laws that govern our state. Lobbyists serve as trusted policy experts on specific issues for legislators who are bombarded with thousands of bills each session. On small issues, it’s every man for himself mentality, but when a company has a big issue that they need solved in Springfield, the lobbyists are expected to collect the king’s ransom. It’s often said in Springfield, “every bill that passes makes or loses someone millions of dollars.”
With so much at stake, companies are willing to do anything they are told, and they often ask the Speaker who should they hire as a lobbyist. Based on whose “turn” it is, or the issue, they are assigned a lobbyist. The lobbyist assignments for both sides are given out by Mike McClain, a former legislator turned lobbyist, who is now commonly called “Mike Madigan’s Messenger to Corporate America.” Once hired, generally at fees upwards of $10,000 per month, the lobbyists set out to “convince” Madigan ‘s legislators to vote for or against the issue. The Speaker knows how the vote will go in advance and the game is fixed, but win or lose, Madigan’s lobbyists get paid their fees. In turn, they pay their “tax” through the companies they represent.
Unfortunately, the number of Black lobbyists in Springfield is extremely small and their clients tend to be small social service agencies. When they do happened to get large clients they are often responsible for lobbying the entire Black Caucus. Conversely, their White counterparts make double the fees for one tenth of the work. Outside of Springfield, Black lobbyist would have an EEOC claim for hostile work environment.
When the big deals get cut, often times the lobbyists work out the deals with no Black lobbyist in the room, leaving the interests of the Black community unaddressed. Typically, when the final bill is voted on, there has been no Black input. And because Madigan controls the compliant legislature with an iron fist, most Black Caucus members are unwilling to challenge him, even when it means the Black community gets left out.
If lobbyists are considered Madigan’s messengers, then the trade unions could be considered Madigan’s enforcers. Trade unions are made up of and led by predominately White Irish men. The trade unions supply Madigan with an endless supply of troops and “resources” (dues) to fight and finance anyone who dares challenge Madigan. These same trade unions are often accused, by members of the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus, of limited Black membership and relegating potential young Blacks to never-ending apprenticeship program. Black Caucus members have quietly fought trade unions on this to no avail, while the speaker remains silent on the issue. Because they know they serve as the Speaker’s enforcers, the trade unions are protected from their openly discriminatory practices without fear of retribution.
Over the last 45 years, governors have changed, members have changed, even centuries have changed, but one thing remains constant in Illinois, Speaker Mike Madigan. At age 73, Speaker Madigan will not have to deal with consequences of his 40 plus year reign, but Illinoisans will be paying for it for generations to come. So as the House that Madigan built crumbles under it’s own weight, the only question that remains is will Illinois survive?