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Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2016 12:21 am

Where’s the plan?

PHOTO BY ALAN SOLOMON/TNS
On election night, Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan started making his usual post-election calls to his Democratic members asking for their support for his own reelection as Speaker. But at least a couple said they’d like to sit down with him before providing a firm answer either way.

Reps. Will Guzzardi and Kelly Cassidy, both liberal Chicago Democrats, confirmed they want Madigan to come up with a plan that, as Guzzardi said, involves more than “just saying ‘No’” to Gov. Bruce Rauner.

“I’d like to know what his vision of the next two years is,” Rep. Cassidy said. “Doing the same thing over and over again is the definition of insanity, so I want to know what the vision is.” Rep. Cassidy refused to comment further, saying she preferred to share her thoughts with Madigan himself. But Guzzardi wasn’t quite as reticent.

“Right now,” Rep. Guzzardi said, “Rauner is the only one with a plan to fix this.” Rauner, of course, endlessly promotes his “Turnaround Agenda” reforms and blames Democrats for blocking him at every turn. He’s the one positioned as a change agent, Guzzardi said, and that, in turn, makes the Democrats look like obstructionists.

“We don’t have an agenda,” Guzzardi complained. The Democratic Party needs to show voters that “we want to change things and let people know what the party is doing for the people of this state.”

Asked about the state party’s aversion to social media and other 21st century innovations, Guzzardi said it wouldn’t matter much now anyway. “We could hire a social media coordinator, but what would they say?”

“It starts with having a message,” Guzzardi insisted, saying he has been talking with several other members about building “a platform that we can go fight on.”

Others in Madigan’s caucus are undoubtedly nervous about January’s vote for House Speaker. Everyone who represents a district that Gov. Rauner won two years ago will be watched closely – and there are a bunch of them, although that number was reduced by five via the election.

There is no doubt that something has changed in the House Democratic caucus.

No actual “revolt” is brewing against the House Speaker. It’s just that members are worried about something that haunts all politicians: Self preservation. A vote for Madigan for Speaker next January is, for many, absolutely guaranteed to cause huge problems for them back home unless this almost two-year impasse is resolved.

Even the least active legislators go to enough events to know what’s on their constituents’ minds. And thanks to unprecedented multi-million-dollar advertising buys on Chicago, St. Louis and other broadcast television markets, a large swath of the public has been overexposed to the pettiness and ugliness of legislative politics for the first time. And about half of those ads were focused mainly on one guy: Speaker Madigan.

The last time anyone voted “Present” on a roll call for House Speaker was 30 years ago this coming January, when Rep. Dick Mautino decided to stick his neck out. He was dealt with harshly, and Madigan put down a potential revolt a year later when he defeated one of the attempted coup leaders in a primary and defeated yet another plotter in 1992. It’s been mostly smooth sailing ever since.

And it’s not like public vilification is anything new to Madigan. I remember the 1988 campaign in the Kankakee area when appointed Rep. Phil Novak (D-Bradley) ran against Iroquois County Clerk John Kuntz. Novak was hammered on local radio and in the mail for his alleged ties to Madigan. But Novak shrugged it off and went on to win. Madigan just wasn’t as well-known back then and Illinois wasn’t in crisis.

But this year is different. The Republicans turned on the biggest anti-Madigan fire hose they could buy to shift as much blame as possible for this horrific two-year stalemate onto the House Speaker. Madigan’s job approval numbers were already very low. Actually, they’ve always been low. But at a time of crisis, people look for a scapegoat and Madigan was handed to the populace by Rauner on an expensive platinum platter.

Nobody will say they are prepared to do it themselves, but plenty of House Democrats are speculating that some of their colleagues could vote “Present” when Madigan comes up for reelection in January. That would be the rarest of rare events, and Team Rauner would most definitely do all it could to exploit it to the hilt. After Madigan lost a net of four seats on Nov. 8, any wavering of support by Madigan’s membership would be “proof” that the man was losing his iron grip.

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

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