State Rep. Suzanne Ness, D-Crystal Lake, said she voted for Rep. Emmanuel “Chris” Welch to replace Michael Madigan as Illinois House speaker Wednesday because of his goals to unify the party, adding that she and her colleagues will hold him to his promises for change.
Despite the close relationship between Welch and Madigan, Ness said she thinks the appointment of the state’s first Black Illinois House speaker was the will of the Democratic caucus and will allow them to turn the page on Madigan’s lengthy tenure.
“To my knowledge, there was no predetermined path to this,” Ness said, who was sworn in this week after defeating Allen Skillcorn for the seat in November. “I will hold Speaker Welch accountable to the things he said, and I look forward to seeing the changes that he has said he will make.”
Ness represents Illinois House District 66, which runs from Crystal Lake and Lakewood in the north through Lake in the Hills, Huntley and Algonquin into Kane County, where it also includes Gilberts, Sleepy Hollow and West Dundee
Ness said she supported state Rep. Anne Williams in the first speaker vote but decided to support Welch the last time around in both the caucus and public votes. During the last caucus vote, she said she could tell that the overwhelming sentiment of her fellow Democrats was to appoint Welch.
“He was the one person that seemed to be able to have the most support among the caucus, and I feel like whoever’s in that position has to really be able to bring the group together,” Ness said. “He spoke of unity, he spoke of the need for diverse representation on the leadership team and all of those things I agreed with.”
Welch received 70 votes Wednesday to be appointed as speaker – ten more than he needed – and was sworn in the same afternoon.
Of the changes Welch has spoken about, Ness said she is especially eager to see the creation of a committee on ethics reform and a committee to examine Illinois House rules. She also hopes Welch will incorporate more feedback from Illinois House members in his decision making, she said.
Criticism of Welch this week centered on allegations regarding an incident of domestic violence from 2002 and how Welch had handled the probe into Madigan’s role in a bribery scheme involving ComEd.
Welch addressed the alleged domestic violence with his colleagues directly, which Ness said made her feel comfortable voting for him.
“Everybody that has been with him in the assembly since he’s been there has had nothing but positive things to say about him,” she said. “It was a long time ago so I felt comfortable giving him my support based on the vision that he has moving forward for the caucus which is what I felt was really important and what I was looking for.”
Even before Madigan suspended his bid for speaker on Monday, Ness said she knew she would not be supporting him in Monday’s vote and told him that personally. Her decision was partly a result of feedback from her constituents being vocal about their desire to see a new speaker, she said.
“Just the cloud of corruption and the allegations surrounding him, I felt cast a dark cloud over the entire assembly that all of us bore,” Ness said. “It ultimately came down to what was best for restoring public trust in the state of Illinois and that is on all of us as elected officials.”
This “dark cloud” still hovers over the Illinois Democratic Party, of which Madigan is still the chairman, a role he held alongside his role as speaker for years.
Ness said she does not think it is right for anyone to hold both roles at the same time as it gives too much power to one person.
But when it comes to whether Madigan should still be the head of the state’s Democratic Party, Ness punted, encouraging residents to take that up with their Democratic state central committee members who have the power to remove him from the position.
The state central committee is made up of 36 members, two from each congressional district. Madigan’s current term as party chairman ends in 2022.