Editorial: The nuance behind Biss criticism of Madigan

 
Posted1/10/2018 1:00 AM
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  • Illinois Speaker of the House Michael Madigan, left, State Rep. Elaine Nekritz and then-State Rep. Daniel Biss discuss pensions in 2012.

    Illinois Speaker of the House Michael Madigan, left, State Rep. Elaine Nekritz and then-State Rep. Daniel Biss discuss pensions in 2012. Associated Press, 2012

Daily Herald Editorial Board

State Sen. Daniel Biss of Evanston stopped in for an Editorial Board interview the other day to make his case for governor, and we will have more to say about that at a later time.

For now, though, we can't resist sharing our fascination with his perspective on House Speaker Michael Madigan, the most powerful Democrat in Illinois.

His criticism of Madigan is at once sharp but also arms length. Such a curious combination.

We get into this today because we thought, as the many candidates for governor arrive for their endorsement interviews, it would be worthwhile this election season to provide an instant glimpse into each conversation by selecting a point of the discussion that strikes us as particularly intriguing.

When State Rep. Jeanne Ives of Wheaton visited a few weeks ago to promote her campaign in the Republican primary against Gov. Bruce Rauner, we thought her proposal to convert all the dual school districts in the state into unit districts was worthy at least of exploration and devoted the first of these Instant Glimpse editorials to the topic.

As for Biss, the intriguing part is that he's still standing. He has tangled with Madigan in the past and Democrats usually don't survive that sort of thing, much less use it as a plank in campaigns for statewide office.

That Biss is doing so certainly says something about him, but it's worth remembering that it also says something about his strategy.

Running against big-money candidates with much stronger name identification, Biss doesn't have much alternative but to run an insurgency campaign built around populist themes. His only hope is in trying to build a grass-roots movement, and in that regard, taking on establishment figures like Madigan may in fact be a requirement.

He's not the only candidate in the Democratic field who is taking on Madigan. Chris Kennedy is doing so too. In Kennedy's case, politics is at play too. Chief rival J.B. Pritzker is perceived as Madigan's candidate so Kennedy, like Biss, may have no choice.

There is a difference in their criticism of Madigan though.

Kennedy's has been far more vocal and passionate, and that difference may be no accident.

Biss says that Rauner has shown that nuclear confrontation with Madigan is ineffective. If elected governor, he says, he will have to find a way to work with the Speaker.

With that in mind, Biss is careful about his rhetoric. His opposition to Madigan, he says, is not personal; it's with the system.

How to work with Madigan. It's clearly an important topic for all the candidates for governor to address.

Someone, after all, is going to be elected governor. And Illinois has yet to see a governor equal to the Madigan challenge.

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