SPRINGFIELD — While it might produce headlines before the November election, a special investigative committee into a patronage scandal involving House Speaker Michael Madigan may not complete its work before the next General Assembly is seated in January.
There have been years of criticism from Republicans about Madigan, who has been the Illinois House Speaker for all but two years since 1983, but this is the first time members of the chamber he controls have taken action against him.
At the request of House Republicans using House Rules, members of the Illinois House have formed a special investigative committee to review a utility patronage scandal that implicated the speaker.
“Given the facts admitted by ComEd for its nine-year-long scheme to bribe Speaker Madigan, the Illinois House of Representatives must do its job and conduct a thorough investigation,” House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, said.
Madigan, who could be asked to testify in front of the committee, would under normal circumstances have appointed members to the committee. However, he recused himself. House Majority Leader Greg Harris, D-Chicago, tapped state Rep. Chris Welch, D-Hillside, to chair the hearings.
“Speaker Madigan is just like any other member of the House, he’s entitled to due process and a fair hearing and I’m going to make sure that that happens,” Welch said. “When someone is accusing him of wrongdoing, under our rules, this is the process that is invoked and we’re going to make sure that Speaker Madigan receives the due process that he deserves and this committee does its work in a fair manner.”
It’s not yet clear when the hearings will begin, but Welch said they could be a blend of hearings in Springfield and in Chicago. All hearings will be open to the public.
“This is an extraordinarily important endeavor … there are questions that need to be answered by the speaker and perhaps the creation of this legislative committee will actually get some of these answers,” Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Wednesday at an unrelated news conference in Chicago. “I favor more information, more transparency and encourage the speaker and anyone that may be called to give the answers.”
Madigan called the move a political stunt by Republicans.
“The request by Rep. Durkin and his members is a political stunt only months away from one of the most consequential elections of our lifetimes,” Madigan said in a statement from his legislative office. “Republicans don’t want to focus on the fact that we have a federal administration that has used the White House to prop up Donald Trump’s wealthy campaign donors and friends at the expense of the American people.”
Pritzker did not call it a stunt.
“That’s his opinion,” Pritzker said of Madigan calling it a stunt. “I want to hear the answers.”
Pritzker said anyone, including Madigan, the committee may call to testify should be transparent and answer questions.
The governor isn’t the only Democrat looking for answers.
Longtime Madigan critic and the only Democratic lawmaker of the House to not vote for Madigan, state Rep. Anne Stava Murray said she’s “glad that house rule 91 has been invoked and that a special investigation will soon be under way.”
Madigan has denied any wrongdoing. He has not been charged with a crime.
Longtime politics observer Kent Redfield said it’s unlikely the U.S. Attorney will let the committee talk with witnesses.
“It is Leader Durkin’s intention not to interfere in any way with the federal investigation,” a statement from House Republicans said.
The committee could make a recommendation for expulsion or take no action at all.
“You will probably have headlines, but no action before the election,” Redfield said. “The committee would have to restart with a new General Assembly if the issue is not resolved before mid-January.”
Madigan is the longest-serving statehouse speaker and he’s also believed to be the only elected official of that stature who is also the chairman of a statewide political party.