If the 13th Ward on Chicago’s Southwest Side was Madigan’s political base, then Springfield was his political playground. In Springfield the machinery of state government grinds quietly, conveying wealth and power in equal measure. This episode explores how Madigan came to control the machinery of state government–and came to rule for half a century.
(00:01): In 1970, Mike Madigan was chosen by Mayor Richard J. Daley as the delegate for the Illinois Constitutional Convention. He literally wrote the rules that govern Illinois today. That was the beginning of his career in Springfield. He was elected to serve the 22nd district in 1971, a seat he kept for 50 years. He quickly rose through the ranks of the Democratic caucus and thanks to some good old fashion horse trading became part of the democratic leadership team in the House. And after the cutback amendment that took the house from 177 members to 118, Madigan claimed the speakership and he would hold on to that post for 36 of 38 years. It’s the Madigan Rule. I’m Justin Kaufmann. This podcast is a production of the Better Government Association. Episode Two: Magic Mike.
(00:52): If the 13th Ward on Chicago’s Southwest Side was Madigan’s political base, then Springfield was his political playground. Springfield is located in central Illinois, about a three-hour drive southwest of Chicago. It’s the state capital and the place where in 1859, a young Abraham Lincoln delivered his famous “A House Divided” speech. More than 150 years later, Springfield’s also the place where a young Barack Obama launched his campaign for the presidency
(01:23): I stand before you today to announce my candidacy for President of the United States of America.
(01:32): But despite those historic moments, Springfield is mostly a sleepy Illinois town where the machinery of state government grinds quietly behind the scenes. For 50 years, the master of that machinery has been Mike Madigan.
(01:46): He’s this short guy. You could see him walking on the street. He doesn’t particularly have, it’s not like Ed Burke with a fedora.
(01:54): Amanda Vinicky spent more than two decades covering Springfield. First for Illinois Public Radio and now for Chicago’s PBS station WTTW.
(02:02): But within the Capitol, oh no. I mean, he’s, he’s vaunted. I almost imagine him like a cartoon with beams of, of political power. My first true interaction with him was during the Blagojevich years. So toward the end of May — so when session really heats up, this is when you have the end of May deadline to pass a budget, legislature’s supposed to adjourn, things are heated, negotiations — and then there’s a tornado warning. All of anybody at the Capitol has to go down to the basement, the dungeon. In these hallways that are very eerily creepily. It looks like something out of The Shining. They are blood red in color, very bizarre, and it’s crowded and it’s hot. And I had my recorder. I see Speaker Madigan by his lonesome. Had nowhere to go. He couldn’t escape. And I went up and interviewed him. I wish I could go back. I wish I still had that tape, but yeah, that’s sort of was for a while my cover letter story.
(03:28): The interaction might not sound like much, but it was unusual because Madigan rarely gave interviews to the press. Especially as his power grew and his tenure lengthened. The Chicago Tribune’s, Rick Pearson.
(03:40): There’s an immense part of, of his personality that is just pure discipline. And that you know that discipline kind of shows itself in the fact that here’s this guy with all this power. And the fact is like, we’re doing here. You have to rely on other people to talk about him because he never really said much in public. And so you were always kind of looking for wisps of smoke or something to divine what was going on with, with, with Madigan.
(04:06): Once in a while he would really show his character. He’s funny, he’s witty. He sort of has that wink and you can see it. He is a student and not just of Illinois history, but of history period. And he would show that off as well.
(04:24): But Madigan didn’t just pay attention to history. He paid close attention to what people wrote and said.
(04:30): I mean, he clearly read the paper. He, you know, he, he, that was part of the homework. He would get upset about what the Tribune had in his editorial pages. He listened to public radio. He called me a couple of times. I have to say I didn’t pick up because it was a blocked number. And you’re like, uh uh, this is spam. And leave me a message that would not take issue, generally, it was more, ‘I learned this from your interview.’ I mean, not often, but a couple of times it was like, oh no, the speaker called, he’s paying attention. He listened. And he had thoughts, perspective, compliments, umbrage with whatever story I had done. I will certainly say that that didn’t happen to me with any of the governors that I’ve covered. Their press people, sure, constantly. But the actual official, no. And Madigan did.
(05:30): Rick Pearson started covering Madigan in the early eighties. Historically, the Tribune’s editorial page has been staunchly Republican. While that’s softened somewhat over the years, the editorial board still loves to criticize Madigan. Again, Rick Pearson.
(05:43): I remember getting out of bed in Springfield and hearing on the radio about Mike Madigan is poised to move an 18% temporary income tax increase through the, through the legislature. And he had been fighting with Thompson on a tax increase for a long time, and I’m going, oh, please, this has gotta be wrong, please, please, please. It’s gotta be wrong. Well, it became known as Operation Cobra and Madigan was so irritated with the editorial board of the Chicago Tribune that he had it selectively leaked to every media outlet in the state of Illinois, except for the Chicago Tribune. He later came up to me and, and with a smile curled on his face said, that’s how the game works.
(06:33): No one has played the game of politics and Springfield better than Mike Madigan. Where others play checkers, Madigan plays chess. From legislative maneuvers to political favors he relishes the art of the legislative battle. Just ask Ray Long. He covered Madigan for almost 40 years. And one of his favorite memories is of the night in 1988, when Madigan and then-Governor Jim Thompson worked feverishly to put together a stadium deal to keep the Chicago White Sox from relocating to Florida.
(07:03): I mean, it was one of the most amazing scenes you’ll, you’ll see in Springfield. Uh, it looked completely like St. Petersburg, Florida was gonna win the right to have the, the White Sox move from Chicago and Thompson, uh, Governor Thompson came storming in about 4:00 PM, looked at some of the glum, faces around his office and said, no, this is not going to happen. He went up to sit with Pate Phillip, his minority leader in the Senate, and brought in Republican votes. They pushed it through the Senate, then Thompson tears across, uh, the rotunda with the crowds out there. And they opened up the big wooden doors of the House chamber. And he goes roaring in and he’s got spotters from his staff pointing to lawmakers that he has to come around and twist arms. And Madigan’s on the other side. And he’s working a sheet of paper that he’s got with all the names of potential swing votes that he could talk to go in and sooner or later, you know, it’s coming down to like three minutes before midnight.
(08:06): And they’ve, they’re still like four or five votes short. Well, they pick up a couple more. Then they pick up a couple more and they’re pointing back and forth. And then Thompson is standing over guy named, uh Stange, Representative Stange. And he convinces Stange to go for it. And they pushed the 60th button. And then the, uh, majority leader says ‘At 11:59, the bill passes, they started printing out the roll calls. Everybody knew it was past midnight and they started printing out the roll calls and the roll calls said 12:03 on them. So they started grabbing all these roll calls and whiting out 12:03, but they forgot to mark out July 1st. And all the Florida TV cameramen were going, the Sox are going to Florida. The Sox are going to Florida, but Thompson is practically levitating off the floor. And then he gets hit up with a bunch of reporters. And he says, no way, the speaker said it was 11:59 when it passed, and no court in the nation is going to say it, it wasn’t. That was the time that Madigan held the clock back. And, uh, he made time stand still. And that was one of the great moments of his legend.
(09:27): Madigan’s power didn’t just come from clock management or manipulation. It also came from mastering parliamentary procedure and from counting votes. Former Republican Governor Jim Edgar got his start in state politics in the Illinois House in the seventies working across the aisle from Mike Madigan.
(09:43): My first recollection of dealing with him was my freshman year as a state rep. At that point, the Democrats were in control of the House. And while Redmond was speaker, for all practical purposes, Madigan was speaker, but he was also chairman of the assignment committee of bills. I mean, he knew very early on where the power was. We always used to think as Republicans, if we could extend the voting hour from six to seven, we’d pick up a lot more votes because a lot of suburbanites coming back would have time to vote. Well, the Democrats thought the same thing and they were adamantly opposed to extending the voting hour from six to seven and someway they got an amendment put on in the Senate and it came back to the House,. Well I’m the sponsor. Well, I’m getting all this pressure from the governor’s office and everybody’s got to get that bill passed, got to call that bill.
(10:34): I can’t get the bill called. So I went up to see Redmond, who was a nice guy. I went up and I said, you got at least give me a shot. It’s not fair enough to let me at least have the bill called. He said, all right, I promise you you’ll get it called. Well, we’re coming down to the deadline of midnight and it’s about 10 o’clock. And I still haven’t got it called and about 11 o’clock, I go up to Madigan and I said, Mike, when are you going to call my bill? I said, Redmond promised me I get a call my bill. And he looked at me and I cannot repeat exactly what he said is going to happen to me. So I went and found Redmond and I just chewed on Redmond. And finally Redmond came out on the podium, five minutes to 12 and called my bill.
(11:16): Of course, every Democrat was lined up to talk about my bill. Five minutes later, he said, it’s now midnight. And all these bills are dead. My bill died. And that was Madigan. And he was, oh, but he was very honest with me up front. We’re going to stick it to you in so many words. And they did. So, Madigan I learned early on, he never would lie. I mean, he he’d always tell you the truth. Usually you didn’t want to hear it, but he’d tell you that he seemed to take some delight when he stuck it to me though. He always smiled, you know, but I also knew even then, I mean, I bet he was the power in the House. And you know, you had to, you know, you had to deal with it and I didn’t find him evil, or I didn’t find him distasteful. He just was a tough negotiator and a tough guy to do business with.
(12:03): Madigan’s toughness didn’t just come from mastering his side of the aisle. It also came from knowing everything he possibly could about his opponents, the Republicans. Again, Governor Jim Edgar.
(12:13): Madigan, we start working the roll call on the House. I talk to George Ryan, the Republican leader in the House. And he told me how many votes he had. And Madigan told me how many votes he had. And he said, what George tell you? And I said, this is how many votes. He doesn’t have that many votes. He’s said he didn’t have those votes. He says, and he went through the roll call that Ryan had given me. And he says, no, no, this is wrong. Now you might be able to get this. And he went through that roll and he had exactly how the Republican, better than George did, the leader. I learned that day. Nobody counts better than Mike Madigan and Phil Rock, great guy, but he can’t count. George Ryan, great guy, but he can’t count. That point on I always had a great deal of respect for Mike Madigan and his ability to understand the process and get things done.
(12:58): Madigan’s mastery of vote counts, legislative assignments and parliamentary maneuvers set him apart from most other lawmakers. After all, being a state representative or state senator is technically a part-time job, but Madigan never treated it that way. As a young lawmaker, Madigan mastered the art of the legislative process, but he also benefited from something else. Again, the Chicago Tribune’s Rick Pearson.
(13:21): What happened in 1982, effective with that election, was that the that was the first year of the smaller Illinois House.
(13:30): This was the cutback amendment, the only citizen-driven initiative that made its way into the state constitution. It reduced the size of the Illinois House from 177 members to 118 and implemented single-member districts, just like we have in the US Congress. The man behind the cutback amendment, then-concerned citizen, Pat Quinn.
(13:50): Madigan was very much opposed to the cutback amendment. Well, he led booing of the state legislature, the House we had done this petition drive against advanced pay and, uh, Jim Houlihan, who was a representative introduced me. I was sitting in the gallery and, uh, when they saw that I was there in the gallery of the House, the entire House stood up, Democrat and Republican, and booed me for three minutes. A standing boovation led by Madigan. So Houlihan said to Madigan, um, you know, this is a terrible thing. You’re booing a fellow Irishman and Madigan said he’s not worthy of being called an Irishman. So he was definitely not my supporter or friend.
(14:34): The cut back amendment ultimately became the law of the land in Illinois and the structure of the general assembly changed. While Madigan may not have realized that at the time, the cutback amendment proved to be a good thing for him. It consolidated power among the parties’ legislative leaders, and that helped Madigan draw the district boundaries for the all important political maps. When Jim Edgar ran for governor as a Republican in 1992, he learned the hard way, just how important those maps were.
(14:59): People got to understand that’s the bottom line in Springfield, the map. Uh, this idea that Republicans are going to be fair or Democrats going to be fair. That’s just not true. Not on this issue. This, this, they might be fair on everything else, but not on a map. And he wanted the map. So he did everything he could to beat me.
(15:16): Edgar ultimately won that election. After his victory, he reached out to have lunch and mend fences with Phil Rock, who was the Senate president, Richard M. Daley, the mayor of Chicago and Michael Madigan, the speaker of the House.
(15:28): Within a week I had a lunch with both Phil Rock and Rich Daley, who was then mayor. I didn’t get a reply from Madigan. We kept calling and calling. This was, this is November. We kept calling in December. Ah, just kind of busy right now. You know, too busy. Called him in January. No reply, no February, no reply. You know, we’re in the session. And I thought of all the guys, I thought I’d be able to work with Madigan because we’d worked well together. I think Madigan figured one I think he was ticked that I won because that’s going to screw up his map plans. But secondly, I think he figured out he’s, he’s a new kid. I’m going to teach him a lesson and just going to show him who’s, you know, who’s the boss.
(16:07): Edgar finally got that meeting with Madigan, but it took him five months. Here’s democratic state representative Will Guzzardi. He represents the 39th district in Chicago.
(16:17): I had dinner with him one time. And Madigan said to me, I’ve worked with Democratic governors. I’ve worked with Republican governors and it’s always the same. They come in and they talk a big game. And then late May, right toward the end of session, I sit down with them and I say, listen, Governor, here’s what you’re going to get. Here’s what you’re not going to get. Here’s what you might get if you’re a good boy. And then, and then we hash it out and that, you know, so they’ll come in. He talks this big game, but we’re eventually we’re going to sit down and get it done.
(16:48): He came to my office, was very cordial. I mean, we didn’t get anything agreed on, but we had a nice frank discussion. This was late March. I’ve been sworn in as Governor in the middle of January, the rest of my term as governor, anytime I wanted to meet with the speaker, he would always insist I’m coming to your office. You’re the governor. He would come down, we’d have meetings, the two of us. And uh often we’d have lunch. And I’d always say, he’s a cheap date. All he eats is an apple.
(17:14): Imagine that regular lunch meetings between leaders of both parties. Here’s another Republican governor, Governor George Ryan.
(17:20): I’ve never had a bad experience with Mike Madigan. He was always a gentleman and he never had asked me to do anything wrong. We, we discussed a lot of things and worked together to get, I think, get some good things for the state of Illinois. Mike was a very meticulous guy about what he did. He, when he, when he was the, when he was a leader and the speaker, I can recall he, uh, read every bill. I think that came through his office and made some very conscious decisions about all of it and didn’t pass it off in most cases. And every time I worked with him, um, he knew what he was talking about and knew what he wanted. And, uh, uh, he was not difficult to work with. If he told you he was going to do something he did it. You know, we didn’t always agree on things, but major things we did. You know, the things that the city of Chicago needed, why, they’d come to me and of course I had to appease a lot of the downstate guys, but we always managed to get things worked out for the benefit of the state.
(18:29): And if winning is everything, what made Madigan stand apart was his ability to deal. Former Sun-Times statehouse bureau chief, and now WBEZ statehouse reporter, Dave McKinney.
(18:38): If Madigan thinks that he’s got somebody who will deal with him, it wouldn’t matter what political stripes they had. You know, George Ryan is a good example, a Republican, and they served together in the Illinois House. And you would think that they would have been natural rivals, but I would argue that probably next to Thompson and George Ryan, I mean, he had no better friends in Springfield, you know, the two Republican governors. And in fact, in his office, you know, when he was still kind of allowing reporters into his office, there was a picture hanging on the wall of, of a press conference where Madigan was standing in the background and, and Ryan was at the podium. And it was almost as if that was sort of just a picture of friends hanging on his wall in his office, in the, in the state House. Don’t forget Madigan had, he had an interest. He had so many people layered into state government in jobs and contracts and things like that. It’s helpful to have, you know, a supportive government for those types of people. So they don’t get hassled in their jobs or moved around or fired or whatever. And so, you know, just keeping that running and keeping that machinery operating was in his interest.
(19:47): Madigan’s influence came not just from his mastery of the details or his willingness to take care of his friends. It also came from how he treated his opponents. He selectively wielded power to reward and to punish, but above all, Madigan was a master at playing the long game. Thinking not just one step ahead, but three. Again, State Representative Will Guzzardi.].
(20:09): I learned a ton from the speaker. You can conduct fight over public policy, or you can work really hard to achieve a legislative outcome in a way that is ruthless and relentless and burns bridges. But man, in the legislature, there’s always another fight the next day. I’ve seen it over the years with colleagues who engage in that kind of behavior. And pretty soon they find themselves with very few friends and an awful lot of enemies and unable to accomplish the stuff that their constituents sent them there to do. That legislating it’s a team sport and it requires building consensus. And it doesn’t mean you have to agree with folks or compromise on your values, but it means that you have to engage in that process in such a way that is about addition and not subtraction. And he was really truly a master of addition.
(21:09): State Representative Will Guzzardi, Governor Edgar, Governor Quinn, Governor Ryan. More to come in this podcast, The Madigan Rule, including a conversation with another governor.
(21:18): Did Mike Madigan want good government? Hell no. He wanted the political power and he wanted me gone. And he succeeded. By blocking me out, they could say, well, he was a do-nothing governor. He should be tossed. In the end we took each other out.
(21:34): The Madigan Rule is produced by me, Justin Kaufmann, in association with the BGA. The executive producer, David Greising. Special thanks to Steve Edwards for story consulting and to Alex Sugihara for the music to find out more about the Better Government Association, investigative reporting and watchdog efforts go to bettergov.org.