A couple of weeks ago, I started noticing that House Speaker Michael Madigan wasn’t voting on most legislation during his chamber’s floor debates. Madigan was feeling under the weather that week, and was ill enough that a leadership meeting with the governor couldn’t be scheduled until a few days later, so I let it go.
But the pattern continued the following week. A spot check of roll calls showed Madigan was listed as present and accounted for, but hadn’t voted either for or against much of anything.
What the heck?
Madigan’s historical voting record is all over the map because, in the past, he has tended to vote for all of his Democratic members’ bills unless he has a strong ideological position in opposition, or if he has a conflict of interest.
Madigan spokesman Steve Brown told me the speaker decided in January that he only wants to make “informed” votes. There are just so many bills out there and not enough time to consider each one, Brown said.
Madigan and his top staff examine each and every bill and amendment back and forth, upside down at least once a week, and often several times a week. So if any legislator is informed, it’s Michael J. Madigan.
Brown also agreed with my own observation that Madigan could be patterning his behavior after the U.S. House speaker, who traditionally votes on only the rarest of occasions. Madigan did vote for a recent fiscal 2015 state budget fix, but that’s probably because he was a party to the agreement. He has voted on a handful of other bills, but there doesn’t seem to be much of a pattern.
Brown said it was conceivable that Madigan would also step in and vote if one of his members needed an extra push to get his or her bill to the minimum majority of 60.
It’s possible, I suppose, that Madigan doesn’t want to tip his hand to the governor, or anyone else for that matter, about where he actually stands on legislation. But I was told by others that this has nothing to do with the new governor, although they refused to say what was really going on.
Keep in mind, this is a guy who is legendary in Springfield for his mildly eccentric habits. He eats an apple at noon every day. He eats dinner at precisely 7 at night — almost always at one of two Springfield restaurants (unless he’s in the rare mood for a steak, and then he and his people head out to that spot), and he eats the same meal and drinks the same wine every time. A severe crisis erupted at one of those restaurants several years ago when weekend staff accidentally served all of Madigan’s special wine to some tourists.
There is, or at least seems to be, a reason for every single thing he does. He makes no moves without considering all the possible angles. It took him eight hours to issue a press release after Rod Blagojevich was arrested, for crying out loud.
So, after 44 years in the Illinois House, for this man to suddenly and without a credible explanation decide to stop voting on almost all legislation is simply bizarre.
And his top lieutenants are enforcing Madigan’s new policy with a vengeance. I’m told a couple of staffers were upbraided last week when they pushed Madigan’s roll call button on some legislation. They were reportedly told in no uncertain terms to never do that again.
Some have darkly speculated without evidence that maybe some investigators are poking around Madigan’s voting record. But, really, if something is up (and there is zero evidence of that) then why change his behavior now, after it’s too late? That just doesn’t make sense.
Maybe he’s just trying to play with everybody’s head. I just don’t know. Whatever is going on, Madigan certainly wouldn’t allow any of his members to behave this way. I can just see it now:
Madigan: “Why aren’t you voting?”
Member: “I only want to make informed votes, Mr. Speaker, sir.”
Madigan: “Then read the analyses that my staff writes for you and pick a button. Better yet, just let my staff ‘inform’ you of your best voting options. Your constituents sent you here to vote on legislation, not sit there like an armless bump on a log with zero political future because I’m going to find somebody else to take your seat if you don’t start voting right now.”
Member: “Yes, sir. It’ll never happen again, sir. I’m sorry, sir. May I please shine your apple, sir?”
Madigan: “Too late. It’s 12:30.”
Rich Miller publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter.