Rockford, Illinois News

Democratic candidates blasted for not condemning Michael Madigan

SPRINGFIELD — Republican candidates for the Illinois House are putting pressure on their Democratic opponents to announce whether they will support Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, who’s implicated but not charged in a bribery scheme unearthed by federal prosecutors.

Members to the Illinois House are elected every even year for a two-year term. The next General Assembly will be seated in January. The first vote members of the House will take is for who will be Speaker of the Illinois House. That’s been Madigan, D-Chicago, for all but two years since 1983. Madigan has also been the chairman of the Democratic Party of Illinois since 1998, giving him control over political funds Democrats use to get elected.

This summer, Madigan was implicated in the deferred prosecution agreement utility ComEd entered into with federal prosecutors where the utility admitted to paying $1.3 million in bribes over nine years in an effort to influence “Public Official A,” who was identified as the speaker. Madigan hasn’t been charged with a crime and maintains he’s done nothing wrong.

And though she’s taken nearly $800,000 from political funds Madigan controls, last week, state Rep. Stephanie Kifowit, D-Oswego, who’s running unopposed for her House seat, said she can’t support the speaker and will challenge him for the position when the new Legislature is seated in January.

“The people of Illinois are tired of putting up with corruption or scandal for a long time,” Kifowit said.

Republican state Rep. Mark Batinick, R-Plainfield, said Kifowit’s move opens up choices for Democrats. As for who Republicans will support, Batinick said it’s anyone who isn’t corrupt.

“We’re all committed to voting for somebody [to be Speaker] who is not under federal investigation,” Batinick said.

He said he has yet to hear such a commitment from his Democratic challenger, Harry Benton.

“Are you voting for Public Official A, are you voting for Kifowit, present or going a different way,” Batinick said.

Batinick also criticized Benton for taking Madigan-controlled campaign funds to send out political fliers.

When Benton was reached for comment by phone, the line was disconnected. A followup call went to voicemail with no return call.

Bartlett Republican candidate for the Illinois House Seth Lewis said incumbent state Rep. Diane Pappas, D-Itasca, has yet to condemn Madigan and has accepted political funds from organizations controlled by Madigan.

“The first vote a state rep makes is for speaker of the House and look, the money she has taken comes with an understanding that in exchange for funding her campaign, she’s expected to vote for Mike Madigan,” Lewis said.

While he’s getting financial support from the Republican establishment, Lewis said he’s not beholden to Republican leadership, nor has such a demand been made.

Messages seeking comment from Pappas’ campaign were not returned.

Kifowit, who announced last week she’s challenging Madigan for the role of speaker, said something has to be done about Madigan’s nexus of power.

“I believe that there is a conflict there when you have the same person as speaker of the House and chairman of the Democratic party,” Kifowit said. “I think that needs to be looked at as well.”

The election is Nov. 3. Newly elected members of the House will vote for the next speaker in late January.

Republicans said while they will support a Republican for speaker, they’d consider a viable moderate candidate if a coalition came together to oppose Madigan.

“We are committed that we think it’s a bad idea to have people who are under federal investigation to be speaker of the House,” Batinick said.

Mary Morrissey, executive director of the Democratic Party of Illinois, said Republicans are “working hard to distract voters from the fact that they have failed the American people by not standing up to Donald Trump.”

Morrissey said: “The Democratic Party of Illinois will continue to support candidates who will protect people’s right to affordable and accessible health care, fight for our workers and their families and get us out of the mess Donald Trump and the GOP have created.”

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