SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan — the longest-serving state legislative leader in American history — has suspended his race to hold onto a gavel he’s wielded for nearly 40 years.
“I have suspended my campaign for Speaker,” he announced in a statement Monday, a day after failing to clinch the 60 votes needed during a meeting of the state’s Democratic caucus. “As I have said many times in the past, I have always put the best interest of the House Democratic Caucus and our members first.”
Madigan, who has served as Illinois speaker almost continuously since 1983, secured just 51 votes in a closed-door party caucus meeting Sunday night, an effort to sort out the chamber’s leadership ahead of the formal floor vote Wednesday. Known as the “Velvet Hammer,” Madigan could afford to lose only 13 votes in the Illinois House and hold on as speaker — a figure he hit in November when several members publicly rebuked his leadership.
State Rep. Ann Williams received 18 votes during the session, while Rep. Stephanie Kifowit got 3 votes. More Democratic representatives are now working to line up support for Monday’s caucus meetings.
While suspending his campaign, Madigan said he has not withdrawn. That decision leaves an opening for him in case the selection of process falls apart, according to two sources familiar with the process.
The speaker’s decision to pull back on his campaign signals a huge revolt from the machine-style politics that have governed nearly every aspect of the state, where Madigan also serves as the head of the Illinois Democratic Party.
Illinois Democrats, including Sen. Dick Durbin, have been agitating to challenge Madigan’s hold on power since he was drawn into an influence peddling scandal last year involving a local electric utility company. Madigan hasn’t been charged, but federal documents identify “Public Official A” as the state’s House speaker and Republicans have latched onto the connections.
Madigan’s exit would bring practical concerns for Democrats, and not just in Illinois: Despite having a Democratic supermajority, the speaker’s allies in labor and in the General Assembly worry ousting him now could jeopardize their control over the next redistricting process, which begins this year. There is also fear around being alienated from him and “The Program,” Madigan’s fundraising operation and an army of volunteers that help candidates win campaigns.