The state of Illinois has a new speaker at the helm of its House of Representatives, an important change if the state is going to break from decades of corruption and mismanagement.
But it’s just a first step.
Michael Madigan no longer wields the speaker’s gavel, but he remains the chairman of the Illinois Democratic Party, controlling whether both incumbent and would-be legislators get the financial support they need from the party to run their campaigns.
Statehouse races don’t run on shoestring budgets anymore. It’s not unusual for the party to infuse tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars into campaigns and provide staff and other support, especially in competitive districts.
That assistance can make or break a candidate’s campaign in races that can easily cost millions of dollars.
For Madigan’s influence to diminish, the 36-member Democrat State Central Committee needs to oust him from the top job there, too.
Even more, though, depends on what changes the new speaker adopts.
Emanuel “Chris” Welch, the first Black man to ever hold the Illinois speakership, was elected by House in a 70-44 vote.
Welch made a lot of reform-minded promises to his colleagues to secure their votes, and we’ll be interested to see whether and how he fulfills those promises.
Welch announced his leadership team this week. On the roster are several new faces, and that’s an encouraging sign.
But questions remain: Who will be appointed to lead the different committees, in particular the Rules Committee where many a bill has died? How will the rules governing how the House runs change?
Will we still see bills hundreds of pages long dumped into the laps of legislators with no time to read them before the vote is held?
We have reasons to be skeptical:
Not only did Welch came up through the Madigan machine, he chaired the special investigating committee tasked with looking into Madigan’s role in the ComEd bribery scheme and determining whether discipline should be pursued.
Welch made the decision in October to postpone any further meetings by the committee until after the election and ensured the committee made no disciplinary recommendations.
We are hopeful Illinois is turning a corner – it desperately needs to – but more still needs to happen for that to become a reality.