EYE ON ILLINOIS: In January, House can’t proceed without choosing a speaker

There are 118 members in the Illinois House of Representatives.

The first thing they do when the regular session begins every other January is elect someone to serve as Speaker of the House. If the significance of this leadership position wasn’t obvious on its face, then consider it’s the first item in the first article of the House rules: “No legislative measure may be considered and no committees may be appointed or meet before the election of the Speaker.”

This usually isn’t much of an impediment, as for almost all of the past three decades the Democrats had the House majority and quickly elected Chicago’s Mike Madigan to the post. But now the state’s most powerful politician finds himself in an unfamiliar position: members of his own caucus are preemptively pulling support.

Plenty has and will be written about the why of this particular issue, but it seems useful to take a bit of time to look at the how. Which brings us back to the House rules: Secretary of State Jesse White will convene the House, designate a temporary clerk and preside over the nomination and election process.

The winner must get 60 votes in a roll call format with no debate. If no one gets a majority, the process repeats until a winner emerges. House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, claims sufficient support from his caucus to keep his spot, but a plurality won’t get him the speakership and there are only 46 House Republicans.

Madigan continues “to have support from a significant number of House Democratic caucus members,” per a Friday statement.

On Oct. 1, Rep. Stephanie Kifowit, of Oswego, threw her hat in the ring. Seventeen others recently pledged they won’t vote for Madigan: Jonathan Carroll, Northbrook; Deb Conroy, Villa Park; Daniel Didech, Buffalo Grove; Robyn Gabel, Evanston; Jennifer Gong-Gershowitz, Glenview; Terra Costa Howard, Glen Ellyn; Anna Moeller, Elgin; Bob Morgan, Deerfield; Anne Stava-Murray, Naperville; Maurice West, Rockford; Sam Yingling, Grayslake; and Kelly Cassidy, Margaret Croke, Eva-Dina Delgado, Will Guzzardi, Lindsey LaPointe and Ann Williams, all of Chicago.

That leaves 53 Democrats who haven’t deserted Madigan. Of those, seven are newly elected: Dagmara Avelar, Bolingbrook; Lakesia Collins, Chicago; Maura Hirschauer, Batavia; Susanne Ness, Crystal Lake; Janet Yang Rohr, Naperville; Denyse Wang Stoneback, Skokie; and Dave Vella, Rockford. Three were appointed since the current session began and haven’t yet voted in a speaker election: Barbara Hernandez, Aurora; and Chicago’s Omar Willams and Edgar Gonzalez Jr.

Not supporting Madigan doesn’t guarantee backing Kifowit. Remaining silent doesn’t constitute an endorsement either. Madigan wants a closed-door session to clear things up before January, but my guess is this dissension reaches the House floor. Until then, we watch for more defectors or challengers.

• Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media Illinois. Follow him on Twitter at @sth749. He can be reached at sholland@shawmedia.com.