It’s certainly been a fascinating proposition to watch the political vultures slowly circle Illinois Speaker Michael Madigan’s not-yet-quite-cold corpse. But as amusing as that brand of schadenfreude can be, just like it is with any Sith Lord, their shadow tends to linger long after their inevitable untimely demise.
Put more simply, if the Feds somehow managed to put Madigan in the pokey tomorrow, the Illinois skies wouldn’t summarily clear, the sun wouldn’t shine any brighter, those angelic hosts wouldn’t break into song, and your property tax bill won’t be going down.
Former Governor Bruce Rauner never understood that Darth Madigan was but a symbol and a symptom, not the disease itself. He thought he could undo thirty years of systemic Republican aided and abetted corruption in just with his mystical billionaire Force, but his efforts to turn just one Democratic Padawan to the Light Side were no match for the Sith Lord’s dark power.
He may be the last of his Machine boss kind, but even if The Speaker vanished tomorrow and the General Assembly embarked upon an immediate crusade to restore balance to the Illinois Force, it would take the better part of two decades to undo the devastating Democratic damage that’s brought this state to the brink of bankruptcy.
But those Springfield Dems have no intention of pursuing anything of the sort.
When the Feds finally put him away, and this time they will, the gale force power vacuum suckage will become the catalyst for the kind of pitched political battle that’ll make the 1983 Chicago City Council Wars look like child’s play!
Given his there-can-only-be-one mentality, with no clear successor, whomever does manage to inherit the Madigan mantel will be but a shade of The Velvet Hammer. As Bill Yeats duly noted, “The center won’t hold” and that Machine influence will be consistently eroded through the inevitable political infighting.
But don’t expect “Mere anarchy to be loosed on Illinois,” either, because those Democrats know exactly on which side their campaign bread is buttered. They’re not about to let go of that power for lack of an iron-fisted leader. In fact, I think it would be safe to say there won’t be a demonstrable downstate Democratic decline for at least a decade.
We’ve repeatedly discussed the real source of The Speaker’s power here, but most folks – and a surprising number of elected officials – still believe he wields an undue mythological “Force,” but it’s his electoral ground game that’s allowed him to succeed at the equivalent of herding cats. The Speaker can get you elected, and he can get you unelected, and every last one of his minions understands that stark reality.
Former State Rep Ken Dunkin foolishly tried to test that theory and we all know what happened to him!
So, while the lack of an heir apparent will be problematic for the post-Madigan Dems, his crack campaign team ain’t about to go anywhere soon! With the Illinois Central Republican Party more fractured than Alex Smith’s leg and GOP candidates’ insipid insistence on clinging to silly social issues, Springfield Democrats will continue to win elections for the foreseeable future.
Hope and change have never been a staple of Illinois politics.
What will be interesting, however, is if The Speaker’s imminent departure means the final extinction of that traditionally water carrying worker bee known as the “precinct committeeman.” Much like the Ewoks did the Empire in on Endor, it’s those noble PCs who perform the bulk of Madigan’s magic.
They’ve been the silent backbone of the Chicago Machine for decades.
Whenever a Libertarian, Green Party, protest, or minority candidate comes to me claiming they’re gonna get elected and change the world, my automatic response is, “Then you need to run a slate of precinct committeemen,” because he or she who controls the PCs, controls the Party, and he or she who controls the Party tends to gets their candidates elected.
And all it takes is ten signatures, too!
But as we sit here today, only 13 of Geneva Township’s 21 precincts can boast an elected Republican precinct committeemen, and while those folks love the title and the capacity to elect Party leaders, they’re not about to walk their precinct or knock on doors for anyone.
Who has time for that?
Meanwhile, on the rare occasion The Speaker actually faces an opponent, you’ll swiftly see his yard signs prominently displayed on every last district front lawn. That’s the power of active and loyal precinct committeemen.
If the Speaker’s successor fails to heed this “from small things baby, big things one day come” ground game dynamic, the consequent Democratic demise will take half the time it would have otherwise.
What I’m saying is, even though a post-apocalyptic Springfield won’t be nearly as much fun without Mad Mike at the helm, please don’t, for a second, believe that, just like Resurrection Mary, his specter won’t continue haunt those hallowed capitol building hallways for years.
To quote legendary 43rd Ward Chicago Alderman Paddy Bauler, “Illinois ain’t ready for reform.”