'You can't sit by and do nothing': Oswego lawmaker challenges Madigan's House leadership

State Rep. Stephanie Kifowit says lawmakers shouldn't have to "grovel" before Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan to move bills forward for a vote, including those on property tax reform.

The Oswego Democrat is lobbying to take Madigan's job if he fails to muster enough votes from House Democrats to remain as speaker, a title he's held for 35 years.

"You can't sit by and do nothing," Kifowit told the Daily Herald editorial board Monday regarding a corruption scandal tightening around Madigan. "He's shown conduct unbecoming of a public official."

Kifowit said Madigan treats lawmakers like minions, failing to hold regular meetings and burying the bills of uncooperative members.

Madigan engages in "calendar stacking," she said, or letting bills stagnate early in the year, then allowing a few per lawmaker to be voted on at the last minute.

That includes property tax reforms supported by Gov. J.B. Pritzker.

"I think the governor is very committed to move the state forward," Kifowit said. But "I've seen proposal after proposal for property tax reform just get squashed in the House."

Legislation that properly passes through House committees "should not linger" but move on to the House for a vote within three days, she said.

"You have to go and grovel for a bill to be called. It's ridiculous," she said. She said Madigan's attitude is, "'you have to come to me. You are just a lowly representative.'"

In July, ComEd pleaded guilty to giving jobs and contracts to firms and people connected with an official identified as Madigan in exchange for favorable legislation. The Chicago Democrat says he's done nothing wrong and federal prosecutors have not charged him with any crimes. Several Madigan associates face charges of bribery along with former ComEd executives.

"The people are ready for a change. They want to be able to trust government and be proud of Illinois again," said Kifowit, the first lawmaker to challenge Madigan for House speaker.

"This investigation has been used as a political weapon by those who seek to have me step down," Madigan said in a Nov. 19 statement. Sixty votes are required to pick a speaker next year and some legislators predict Madigan won't reach that as influential Democrats like Pritzker are turning up the pressure on him to answer the allegations or step down.

Changing the culture of patronage in Springfield starts with ending Madigan's ability to be both speaker and chairman of the Illinois Democratic Party, which gives him enormous control over candidate funding, Kifowit said.

Severing the two jobs "would do amazing things. We had members that told the speaker they weren't voting for him," and as a result, campaign support was cut off, she said.

Kifowit noted she has the cellphone numbers of former and current Senate presidents John Cullerton and Don Harmon. With Madigan, "I have to go through five different channels and then get a scheduled time for a call back."

She also hopes for less partisanship, adding, "I have a good relationship with many Republicans." One example she said she'd deliver is reintroducing votes on revenue estimates. "I think that's an easy compromise. It's something the Republicans have asked for."

But a skirmish with a Republican during debate on a bill capping lawsuit damages related to a deadly outbreak of Legionnaires' disease at the Illinois Veterans Home in Quincy caused controversy for Kifowit in November 2018.

Kifowit, a U.S. Marine Corps. veteran, opposed the cap and told former GOP Rep. Peter Breen of Lombard "I would like to make him a broth of legionella and pump it into the water system of his loved one so that they can be infected."

Kifowit apologized and said at the time she was outraged at the harm done to veterans.

On Monday she explained, "it's a comment not meant to be taken literally. Many people came up to me after that and said, 'we know exactly what you mean. Thank you for standing up for our veterans.'"