Eye On Illinois: With Madigan ‘fired,’ GOP focuses on replacing Pritzker

It only took eight years, but the Illinois Republicans finally reached a chief goal.

In late August 2012, at the Republican National Convention in Florida, the state party rolled out a website and merchandise line with the memorable slogan “Save Illinois: Fire Madigan.”

After that, 21-term veteran Mike Madigan won five more 22nd House District elections and four more terms as House Speaker. But he resigned from the General Assembly Thursday, a few weeks after failing to extend his run as speaker, his post for all but two years since 1983.

With Madigan deposed as speaker, the GOP moved on quickly. Now you can visit FirePritzker.org to get your anti-governor swag.

Madigan was always insulated by the ease with which he won his House district. The effort to fire him as Speaker was really more about the GOP winning a majority of House seats, which it still hasn’t accomplished. Surely the campaign deserves some credit for House Democrats ultimately realizing they needed a new leader, but here’s guessing no Republican wants to wait eight more years to knock JB Pritzker off his pedestal.

The key difference is all the state’s voters get a crack at Pritzker next year. The first-term executive hasn’t announced a re-election bid, even as GOP challengers line up, but neither has he indicated he won’t seek re-election. Plus, with his budget address still warm and daunting legislative sessions ahead, to say nothing of pandemic management, there are many better opportunities for the incumbent to campaign.

The GOP hasn’t totally forgotten about Madigan. New state Party Chairman Don Tracy’s statement targeted Madigan’s long shadow and ongoing influence:

“Chairman Madigan’s legacy is that of presiding over the decline of a once great state, ballooning pension liabilities by hundreds of billions of dollars and the accumulation of historic political power that primarily benefited government insiders and special interests,” Tracy said Thursday. “(He) may no longer be a state representative, but he is still chairman of the Democratic Party of Illinois where he personally controls over $15 million in campaign cash.”

Madigan also remains a ward committeeman, guaranteeing he can choose his House replacement. All House vacancies are filled by appointment, and no one should expect anything besides another Madigan flex. But a resignation more than six weeks out from the April 6 consolidated election is occasion to wonder again if Illinoisans might be better served by changing the rules so legislative vacancies go straight to actual voters, not party power brokers.

Republicans aren’t shy about who and what they oppose. They needed powerful Democrats to fire Madigan, and they’ll need many Democratic voters to fire Pritzker. Who they think we should hire in his place remains to be seen.

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