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Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017 12:09 am

Madigan rallies, pro and con

Left: A protester with an oversized Madigan head mocks the House speaker. Right: A Madigan supporter


As Michael Madigan was being reelected speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives for an unprecedented 17th time, the day the 100th General Assembly was inaugurated, protesters from the Illinois Policy Institute (IPI) staged a rally to criticize Madigan outside the ceremonies at University of Illinois Springfield.

Austin Berg, senior writer for IPI, organized the protest. “You see a vast majority of Illinoisans disapprove of his leadership, yet every two years, you see him get reelected to the most powerful position in the General Assembly,” said Berg. “So we’re saying, ‘What is that disconnect?’’’

Berg referenced a recent IPI report on the way that Madigan exerts and sustains his power upon lawmakers (see “Inside the sausage factory,” by Bruce Rushton, IT Jan. 12, illinoistimes.com). Dubbed “The Madigan Rules,” the article said Madigan controls who votes in committees, when a bill is called for a vote, what bills are voted on and the selection of committee chair positions.

“No other state in the country gives as much power to its speaker as Illinois does to Mike Madigan,” said Berg. “That’s not good for democracy. Democracy is effectively dead in Illinois because it’s a one-man rule in the General Assembly. That comes to fruition because of the House rules that the General Assembly passes every two years.”

This has led to, among other things, Illinois having a dismal job climate to go along with disproportionate property tax rates, Berg said. According to the December 2016 unemployment report by the United States Bureau of Statistics, Illinois has an unemployment rate of 5.6 percent, ninth worst in the country and worst in the Midwest (see “Unemployment Rates for States, Seasonally Adjusted,” Dec. 16, Bureau of Labor Statistics). A 2016 study by WalletHub found that at 2.25 percent, Illinois had the nation’s second highest property taxes. (see “2016’s Property Taxes by State,” by John Kiernan, March 7, Wallethub.com) “People are so frustrated with the status quo, and the vote for speaker has a lot to do with the status quo,” added Berg.

The IPI rally faced opposition however, as union workers represented by the Laborers International Union of North America (LIUNA) staged a counter protest.  “We’re showing our support for the people who support our way of life,” said Tim Roseberry, LIUNA director of communications. “People that protect union wages, protect union rights, protect safety initiatives, that’s why we’re here.”

The union rally received a boost from state representatives, including Lou Lang, Luis Arroyo, Elgie Sims and Juliana Stratton, all of whom offered personal support for LIUNA’s efforts. “I served 30 years as a bricklayer in the Department of Water Management, and I didn’t come here to sit on my hands,” exclaimed Arroyo. “We’re here to help you, and we’re here to support you. Thank you for doing what you’re doing.”

Roseberry had strong words for those who protested the actions of Madigan, believing their criticisms are misguided. “They’re making this about the personality of one person. It’s not about Madigan; it’s about us. It’s about working people,” Roseberry said. “It’s about (Gov. Bruce) Rauner wanting to destroy our way of life, wanting to do away with right-to-work laws, wanting to do away with prevailing wage. Mike Madigan has done nothing but protect our rights.”

In carrying out the protest, Berg of IPI hoped to gain the attention of legislators to signal that change is needed in the state’s political hierarchy. “We look to hold lawmakers’ feet to the fire for the first time on this issue. No one really has held them accountable for this vote, and that’s what we want to do, because it is an extremely important vote,” said Berg. “This man has brought Illinois to its knees, and Illinois should be furious that its lawmakers have slapped them in the face like this by electing someone that they clearly disapprove as a leader.”

Alex Camp is an editorial intern at Illinois Times. He is pursuing his master’s degree in Public Affairs Reporting at University of Illinois Springfield.

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