Race for Illinois speaker sets up showdown in Springfield


With two major new candidates entering the fray, Illinois House Democrats later today are set to renew efforts to select a new speaker—while incumbent Mike Madigan hangs in the wings in case they come up short.

The new contenders include Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch of Hillside, who threw his hat into the ring late yesterday after picking up an endorsement from the Legislature’s Black Caucus, and downstate Democratic leader Rep. Jay Hoffman of Swansea. Hoffman hasn’t formally announced his campaign, but insiders say he is lining up support and has some backing from organized labor and trial lawyers, two important Democratic funding groups.

Welch and Hoffman would join North Side independent Ann Williams, who in an initial caucus vote yesterday got far more support than anyone except Madigan. Madigan has "suspended" but not ended his campaign for a new term as speaker. 

At the moment, key insiders tell me, Welch appears to have the strongest base of support, with the 22 members of the Black Caucus and potentially the Latino caucus and other Madigan backers.

The 40-year-old attorney “is smart, very hard working. Knows the nuts and bolts of the legislative process,” says one key Madigan backer who asked not to be named. “He’s willing to take on tough tasks that others avoid.”

However, Welch, who is about to enter his fifth term in office, also is considered a very, very strong ally of Madigan and serves as a top lieutenant of the speaker as chairman of the powerful House Executive Committee.

Among those “tough tasks” has been leading a special investigatory committee into Madigan’s involvement in the Commonwealth Edison bribery scandal, a panel that recently dissolved after refusing to subpoena the speaker or otherwise force him to explain his relationship with the indicted utility. That could make him a tough sell to those in the party who are looking for a break from the past and a new reform image.

Hoffman is considered more of a transitional figure.

A 59-year-old attorney who has been in the House since 1991, Hoffman is a member of Madigan’s leadership team as assistant majority leader, but gets along well with key Democratic constituencies. He also comes from a portion of the state which needs party help if it is not to turn entirely Republican.

On the other hand, Hoffman was a close ally of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, not exactly a political plus. To win, he’ll likely have to hope that other candidates stumble and the party turns to him.

Williams got 18 votes in the caucus and can claim that she was among the first to directly challenge the speaker. (Another candidate, Rep. Stephanie Kifowit of Oswego, has attracted little support.) Several women’s groups have effectively endorsed Williams, saying in a joint letter that a woman must be elected if Springfield’s insular and often sexist political culture is to change.

But Williams, who chairs the House Energy Committee, has ruffled some feathers among her colleagues. It’s not clear she can expand her base.

The 52-year-old is also an attorney by trade, and ironically got her start in politics working as a junior staffer for Madigan. She’s been in the House since 2011.

House Democrats may caucus as soon as midafternoon or this evening after session. If no one gets the needed 60 votes, they could keep voting or kick things over until after the new General Assembly is sworn in on Wednesday.

The big question behind all of this is whether Madigan has orchestrated the Democratic infighting, hoping that various factions will beat themselves silly but come up short and eventually turn to him. Maybe, maybe not. We’ll soon get some more indications who has the votes and who doesn’t. 

via Crain’s Chicago Business https://ift.tt/1mywUHL

January 12, 2021 at 04:19PM

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