Tom Kacich | Illinois had its own lengthy deadlock for House speaker | Columns

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Perhaps the rest of the country — until now — wasn’t familiar with the delight of a lengthy, droning, intra-party battle for speaker of the House. But Illinoisans are.

In 1975, it took Democrats in the Illinois House 93 ballots — cast over a period of nearly two weeks — to settle on someone to lead the Legislature’s lower chamber. The winner was state Rep. William Redmond, an elfish, unlikely compromise candidate from then-solidly-Republican DuPage County. Redmond’s previous claim to fame was that he had pinned Joseph McCarthy, the demagogic U.S. senator from Wisconsin, in a wrestling match when both were students at Marquette University.

When balloting began on Jan. 8, 1975, the odds-on favorite was state Rep. Clyde Lee Choate, whose district was the southernmost in the state and who lived just 30 miles from the Ohio River. Choate, a Medal of Honor winner for his bravery in World War II, was a disciple of Paul Powell, a onetime Illinois secretary of state who died in 1970, leaving behind a fortune of more than $4.6 million, much of it coming from illegal transactions. In fact, Powell and Choate were partners in a company that sold tires to the Illinois Tollway Commission, a state agency.

While Choate was the early favorite of Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley, he was opposed by Gov. Dan Walker, also a Democrat.

Choate had earned Walker’s hostility by having opposed the governor’s son-in-law in a Democratic primary in 1974.

“I’ll never forgive that man for what he did to my son-in-law,” Walker said.

Needing 89 votes to win the speakership, Choate never got more than 61. The anti-Choate group included Walker loyalists, government reformers and other representatives available for deal-making.

By the 39th ballot, Daley’s bloc abandoned Choate, with most going to Redmond. But that still wasn’t enough to break the deadlock.

As the inside-baseball drama carried on for days, a Chicago Tribune editorial suggested that Choate could not win and that he should bow out gracefully.

“Mr. Choate is disgracing himself, at a cost to the taxpayers of $7,500 every deadlocked day. He made an impassioned speech on the floor against oppressive leadership, forgetting that he had been one of the House’s leading despots for years,” the Tribune wrote. “He has attempted to portray himself as a noble martyr at the same time that his operatives were trying to cut backroom deals to keep him in the leadership.”

Finally, it took the votes of Republicans to end the marathon that broke the previous record of 76 ballots in 1913. The first Republican to cast his vote for Redmond was freshman state Rep. Lee Daniels of Elmhurst. That got him in trouble with some members of his party, including state Rep. Philip Collins, a tough-talking legislative veteran from Calumet City.

“We’ll cut his (deleted) off. That boy is in a lot of trouble,” thundered Collins.

It was all bravado. Soon, six more members of the GOP joined in, Redmond finally was elected, the state survived and functioned well, and Redmond was re-elected twice more as speaker, finally retiring in 1981.

And rather than descend into trouble, Daniels was elected speaker of the Illinois House in 1995, serving one term. He also was chair of the state Republican Party.

He was one of more than a dozen representatives who endured the 93-ballot marathon and still went on to political success.

Others included the future Chicago Mayor Harold Washington; Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White, who is retiring this weekend; future longtime House Speaker Michael Madigan (now under indictment along with his associate, Mike McClain); future U.S. Reps. Tom Ewing, Gale Schisler and George Sangmeister; future U.S. District Judge Brian Duff; future Illinois Appellate Court justices Dan Pierce and Alan Greiman; future University of Illinois trustees Ken Boyle and Gerald Shea; and longtime state Reps. Helen Satterthwaite of Urbana and Paul Stone of Sullivan.

The republic will survive the U.S. House’s gridlock as well.

Jesse White moves on

Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White literally is cleaning house. Stacks of furniture, office equipment and other items — even an aged electric range — jammed the hallway outside White’s spacious office on the second floor of the Capitol last week, as crews readied it for a new tenant.

White’s office since January 1999 was undergoing a deep cleaning and all the items were being rearranged, said spokesman Henry Haupt. Democrat Alexi Giannoulias will move into the suite of offices this weekend and will be sworn in as Illinois’ new secretary of state on Monday.

Tom Kacich’s column appears Sundays in The News-Gazette.

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January 9, 2023 at 06:57AM

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