ILLINOIS (IRN) — A new bill would prohibit state lawmakers from serving as the leader of a state political party while in office, but it wouldn’t affect House Speaker Michael Madigan, who has come under fire by Republicans and some Democrats for the power he wields as the longest-serving state legislative leader and his control over campaign finances as chairman of the Democratic Party of Illinois.
The state’s other legislative leaders have term limits. There are leadership term limits in the Senate rules. House Republicans also have leader limits, but not in the entire House. Asked why there are no limits in his caucus, Madigan declined to answer.
Madigan has been House speaker for all but two years since 1983. Lawmakers have filed legislation for several years to set term limits for legislative leaders. There have also been constitutional amendments proposed to limit terms for legislative leaders.
Republicans have chafed at Madigan’s dual role as House Speaker and the leader of the Democrat’s statewide political party. Members of the House have elected Madigan to be speaker since 1983. The Democratic Party of Illinois’ state central committee has elected Madigan party chairman since 1998.
State Rep. Margo McDermed, R-Mokena, said her House Bill 878 would prevent the dual role in the future.
“When you’re acting as party chair, your goal is to increase the amount of members of your party who are elected to all offices including offices of the General Assembly,” McDermed said. “When you’re a legislative leader, your goal ought to be legislating for the good of everyone in Illinois.”
McDermed said she was surprised when her bill was discussed House Judiciary – Civil Constitutional Law Subcommittee last week.
“I was surprised that I was allowed to have a hearing on this bill. Last year I wasn’t,” McDermed said. “So I guess it was a good surprise.”
Democrats in subcommittee said the bill was partisan, specifically targeted Madigan, and took away a party central committee’s power to make that choice. They voted against advancing it. Democrats control both the House and Senate with supermajorities.
McDermed said her bill was about ethics, not politics.
“The Illinois House of Representatives is run entirely for the purpose of consolidating and maintaining political power” for Democrats, she said.
Democrats questioned the constitutionality of McDermed’s bill in committee, but committee chair state Rep. André Thapedi, D-Chicago, declined to comment after the hearing.
“Other states seem to have gotten around the constitutional issue,” McDermed said. “I’m sure we can do it if we had the political and ethical will to do it.”
McDermed said she would request another hearing in the future.