Madigan the boogeyman

Speaker of the House replaces the original Mayor Daley as Republicans’ favorite Chicago whipping boy

 With supporters waving ready-made posters, Gov. Rauner rails against J.B. Pritzker as a sidekick of Michael Madigan on Governor’s Day at the State Fair. (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

With supporters waving ready-made posters, Gov. Rauner rails against J.B. Pritzker as a sidekick of Michael Madigan on Governor’s Day at the State Fair. (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

By Ted Cox

To judge from campaign materials, you’d think Michael Madigan was on the ballot in every race in the November general election instead of just one Chicago statehouse contest.

Much as he did four years ago, Gov. Bruce Rauner has tied his Democratic opponent to “Speaker Madigan” in hopes that it would sink J.B. Pritzker much as it sank Gov. Pat Quinn.

You can’t replace the longtime speaker of the House, the thinking goes, so you’d better put in a governor who can rein in his immense powers.

 These posters were given out on Governor’s Day at the State Fair. (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

These posters were given out on Governor’s Day at the State Fair. (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

It makes a certain amount of sense in the governor’s race, at least politically, but now the tactic is spreading across the ballot into congressional races as well.

U.S. Rep. Peter Roskam, of Wheaton, is calling his Democratic opponent, Downers Grove’s Sean Casten, a “Madigan puppet,” and U.S. Rep. Mike Bost, of Murphysboro, is lumping his opponent, St. Clair County State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly, in not only with Madigan, but with former U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, now the House minority leader.

The Chicago Tribune ran a story Tuesday with the headline, “Madigan looms over” the race between Roskam and Casten (a headline that has since been changed online), but what it reported was that Roskam was trying to tar Casten with guilt by association with Madigan, with nothing more to back it up.

“They’ve found their boogeyman they’ve tried to tie to every politician in every race, and it’s not working because people don’t believe that,” said Casten spokesman Greg Bale. He added that Roskam is “just trying to latch us onto someone he thinks is unpopular” as “a last-ditch effort to salvage his dismal record,” including strong support for President Trump and his tax cut for the rich, as well as opposition to abortion rights and other women’s issues.

Otherwise, Bale said, Roskam would be hard-pressed to find a chink in “Sean’s record as a successful clean-energy businessman who’s created hundreds of jobs.”

Without disavowing Madigan in any way, Bale pointed out Casten is running for Congress, not the General Assembly, and has no real ties with the House speaker. Casten benefits from the state Democratic Party headed by Madigan, as “all candidates do work with the Democratic Party because it’s the fiduciary arm that you just operate through,” same as Roskam with the state Republican Party, but Bale added, “We’re not receiving direct funds from the party.”

 Sean Casten’s supporters point out he’s running for Congress, not the General Assembly alongside House Speaker Michael Madigan. (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

Sean Casten’s supporters point out he’s running for Congress, not the General Assembly alongside House Speaker Michael Madigan. (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

Meanwhile, in the congressional race in the so-called Metro East area across the Mississippi River from St. Louis, Bost says on one campaign ad: “I’ve spent 20 years fighting Pelosi and Madigan. My opponent has spent his career supporting them.”

What Bost is doing still spending his time fighting Madigan while serving in Congress is another issue entirely. Meanwhile, as St. Clair County state’s attorney, Kelly is not likely to be working much with Madigan, and not likely to be working at all with Pelosi.

But it’s nothing new in state politics, as a study released earlier this year by the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale explained. The study, “The Politics of Public Budgeting in Illinois,” basically looks at different regions across the state and finds which areas are getting more back in state spending than they’re giving in state taxes.

Not surprisingly, it found that everyone thinks he or she is getting less back than what’s being put in, but that the far southern counties of Illinois get back $2.81 for every tax dollar, while Chicago and its suburban collar counties pay for that by getting back less than a dollar on the dollar. That is a common dynamic in all states, it added, with vital areas serving to subsidize areas that are less well off.

"What is different or at least exaggerated in Illinois," the study adds, "is the extent to which many Illinois leaders emphasize, exploit and exacerbate these regional differences for their own advantage. One of the most tried and true political strategies in Illinois is to run against Chicago. Or alternatively, running against major leaders of Chicago. As the original example, Mayor Richard J. Daley and the Daley Machine in his day was always a staple for downstate candidates to target their ire against.

"More recently, the stand-in for running against Chicago is to run against Speaker of the House Michael J. Madigan the long-time leader of the House Democrats and the chairman of the Illinois State Democratic Party."

In short, Madigan is presented as the boogeyman representing unbridled political power, “corruption,” and the unfounded belief that downstate residents are losing their tax money to Chicago Public Schools and other programs to combat urban blight.

So maybe reporters should try to track the actual connections between Madigan and other state candidates when the “issue” comes up, as well as why their opponents are trying to bind them together in the first place.