Editorial: 'Significant number' propping up leader's stubbornness does lasting harm
When the most powerful person in government refuses to acknowledge the facts, quit holding government hostage and get out of the way so the next stage of leadership can move in and get the system working effectively again, much is lost because of the stubbornness of one man. When the heart of his party stands by him in opposition to the clear will of the people, it's impossible to ignore the potential for serious harm to the democracy.
So, as frustrating as it is to see Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan digging in his heels as a federal investigation swirls around him, it is even more disappointing to see the "significant number" -- to use Madigan's phrase -- of state Democrats willing to prop up his flagging hopes of retaining his leadership position.
And, yes, the situation is eerily and disappointingly similar to what we are seeing at the national level with Republicans and President Donald Trump, who except for apparently finally agreeing Monday to let the General Services Administration prepare for a transition of power has persistently disregarded the outcome of the election. Fortunately, though, in both situations, reasonable voices are beginning to emerge that place public interest above one person's self-preservation. Slowly, more Republicans are coming forth to urge Trump to accept the reality of his election loss, and, closer to home, the number of Democrats who have defected from Madigan -- with the recent additions last week of Jonathan Carroll, of Northbrook, and Sam Yingling, of Round Lake Beach -- has reached 18. Assuming no Republicans would support Madigan, that leaves him at least five votes short of the 60 he needs to remain House speaker.
As late as Friday, Madigan continued to insist he has done nothing wrong and boasted he has "support from a significant number of House Democratic caucus members" who want him to remain as leader. Shame on those in that number.
Like the Republicans who refuse to stand up to the bullying man in the White House and make him see that his intransigence is harming the nation, these Democrats need to reassess their loyalties to the bullying man in the statehouse and make him see the damage his obstinacy is doing to the reputation and management of the state.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker himself made the point clearly at his press conference last Thursday.
"If Speaker Madigan wants to continue in a position of enormous public trust with such an enormous ethical cloud hanging over his head, then he has to -- at the very least -- be willing to stand in front of the press and the people and answer every last question," Pritkzer said. "If the speaker cannot commit to that level of transparency, then the time has come for him to resign as speaker. The pay-to-play, quid-pro-quo situations outlined in these indictments ... are unspeakably wrong."
Those words should ring loud in the ears of those 55 Democratic state representatives. The vote for House speaker will take place at the beginning of the 102nd General Assembly in January. That gives them about a month and a half to decide whether their loyalties are to the state and the constituents they represent or to one man.
Instead of promising the speaker they'll stand by him no matter what, they should be showing him the light and the door -- and then start lining up behind new, reform-minded leadership for what will be a historically critical year for state government.