Michael Madigan is the closest state Democrats have to Mitch McConnell. Credit: Illinois House; U.S. Senate

If I were a state House Dem, I like to think I’d join the crew urging Michael Madigan to step down as speaker—what with the Commonwealth Edison scandal endangering the Democratic Party.

But then, really when you think about it, there’s no way Madigan would let a goody two-shoes like me get elected state rep—even if I were foolish enough to give it a try.

Think about it—I’d be running in a north-side district against one of Madigan’s caucus members. And the big guy’s very protective of his caucus members.

Right from the start, Madigan would dispatch Michael Kasper—his favorite election lawyer—to have me booted from the ballot for some infraction of a Byzantine rule.

And even if I miraculously survived Kasper’s challenge, Madigan would order some aide to dig through my past, looking for dirt to use against me.

Man, they’d be reading columns going back to the 90s to find an incendiary passage or two, which they’d put in a flyer and mail to every voter in my district, depicting me as the second coming of Lenin.

And then all those nice, Tribune-reading, Lori-loving centrists in my north-side district would say—Oh my, gosh, this guy’s a commie. I’m scared—I’m very scared.

And they’d run out to vote against me.

But if I somehow managed to prevail? If somehow I actually won, the next day bright and early my cell phone would ring and on the line would be—yes, you guessed it—Michael Joseph Madigan himself.

And he’d be as sweet as Tupelo honey . . .

Ben, how ya’ doin’? Congratulations on the win. How’s your family? What can I do for ya’? Any committee you’re interested in sitting on? Have an egg roll. Have a spare rib. Have a kumquat—have two!

Point is—there’s more than two ways for the man they call the Mad Dog to skin a cat. He can keep you out. Or welcome you in.

And that’s why most Democratic state reps are unwilling to break ranks with the speaker, even with his ComEd patronage scandal looming large.

One, they remember all the nice things he’s done for them. So, they feel loyal.

And, two, they know how tough he can be. So, they’re a little scared. It’s why so many legislators these days have been quoting Omar in The Wire—“You come at the king, you best not miss.”

Which usually gets butchered in the retelling into something like—Ugh, you better not miss the king if you shoot at him.

So, I’d like to believe I’d do the right thing and stand up to the Mad Dog. But who knows how brave any of us would be?

And I don’t blame the Dems. I can make the argument that it’s better to keep Madigan than get rid of him—ComEd scandal and all. 

For better or worse, he’s the closest Democrats have to a Mitch McConnell. And you don’t see Republicans getting rid of Mitch.

And by that I don’t mean Madigan’s a right-wing racist who’s trying to bankrupt the government by giving tax breaks to the richest of the rich—like McConnell.

No, I mean he’s a master of the legislative process who can beat the Republicans at their own games.

And that’s why Bruce Rauner, Ken Griffin, the Tribune, and all the rest of the Ayn Rand crowd in this state hate Madigan so much. Because he beats them year after year. 

As far as I can tell, the main thing that really matters to Madigan is holding on to power. And that means making sure his caucus members get reelected.

He has no bedrock ideology. As Rich Miller points out, Madigan’s moved steadily left over the years to accommodate the needs of his caucus members on everything from gay marriage to legalized reefer to union rights.

In fact, I’d go so far as to say that Madigan is the reason Bruce Rauner didn’t bust the unions in this state the way former Governor Scott Walker did in Wisconsin.

It certainly wasn’t Mayor Rahm or even Senate president John Cullerton who led the fight to save the unions. Man, they’d have sold out the unions in a heartbeat—especially Rahm.

But Madigan didn’t budge. No matter how many downtown Republicans hired his law firm to win them property tax breaks.

So, yes, it’s payback time, and the Rauner crowd is coming after him, salivating over every little detail of the Commonwealth Edison case. Even though President Trump himself did far worse. And they didn’t say boo about him. Well, we all know Republicans are phonies.

Just thinking about who’s against Madigan is almost enough to make me support him.

But there’s this. All those years of pounding at Madigan have taken their toll. Rauner and Griffin have successfully turned him into a caricature of himself. 

In fact, it might be their greatest triumph. They’ve turned the Democrat’s strength into a weakness.

And it seems to be working. As in the case of Thomas Kilbride, the downstate supreme court justice who lost his retention battle because the Republicans effectively put Madigan’s head on his body.

Was that fair? No. Was it accurate? No. But I can’t cry too much about it. Madigan would do it to them in a heartbeat. Hell, Madigan has done it to them. Putting Trump’s head on Republican bodies.

At the moment, Illinois is blue. But it wasn’t always this way. As recently as 1988, George Bush won the state.

It could go back to red. The only thing working against the Republicans is that they’re so batshit crazy—like Rudy Giuliani leaking hairspray(?) down his sweaty face—it’s hard for people outside the MAGA cult to support them. 

My wish is that Madigan would step down and turn things over to someone like state representative Chris Welch. Then Madigan could be the advisor—think Tex Winter whispering sage advice into Phil Jackson’s ears.

But I don’t see that happening. So, this show will probably play into a showdown early next year.

Oh, my beloved Democrats. As always, you make things difficult for yourselves.  v