CHICAGO (CN) — Evidence supports a rival candidate’s claim that Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan planted sham candidates on the ballot to dilute the Latino vote in his district, a federal judge ruled, but voters were aware of his conduct and voted for him anyway.
“The price of political dirty tricks must be collected at the ballot box, rather than the courthouse,” the Seventh Circuit ruled last year in Jones v. Markiewicz-Qualkinbush.
U.S. District Judge Matthew Kennelly relied heavily on Jones in his Friday ruling clearing Madigan of liability for questionable tactics used in his 2016 re-election race.
Jason Gonzales sued Madigan in 2016 for allegedly using phony candidates to dilute the vote in District 22, a mostly Latino district, which Madigan has represented since 1971.
Madigan is the Illinois Legislature’s longest-serving member, and has been Speaker of the House for all but two years since 1983, making him the longest-serving leader of any U.S. state or federal legislature ever.
Nicknamed “the Velvet Hammer,” Madigan is often frequently referred to as the “real” governor of Illinois.
Gonzales announced his intention to run against Madigan in 2015, and said that as soon as he filed his nominating petition, two additional Latino candidates — Joe Barboza and Grasiela Rodriguez — also filed petitions to run for Madigan’s seat.
Claiming that neither Barboza nor Rodriguez actively campaigned, Gonzales accused Madigan of placing two phony candidates with Hispanic surnames on the ballot to dilute the Latino vote.
Judge Kennelly found substantial support for Gonzales’ claims.
“A jury could reasonably conclude that individuals closely tied to Madigan’s campaign manager convinced Barboza and Rodriguez to enter the race — against Madigan. … This evidence supports a reasonable inference that Madigan authorized or at least was aware of the recruitment effort,” Kennelly wrote.
He continued: “A reasonable jury could find that Barboza and Rodriguez’s purported candidacies for Madigan’s office were orchestrated by Madigan’s associates, working on Madigan’s behalf.”
But Madigan’s dirty tricks were not a secret from voters. On the contrary, Gonzales’ campaign focused heavily on Madigan’s deceptive tactic: that Madigan placed sham candidates on the ballot in an effort to keep his seat.
“This publicity placed the alleged misconduct squarely within the political realm, enabling voters to rebuke Madigan by electing his challenger. Instead, Madigan prevailed by a substantial margin,” Kennelly ruled.
Madigan was re-elected in 2016 with more than 65% of the vote. Gonzales took 27% of votes, Rodriguez 5.8%, and Barboza 2%.
“Under Jones, the Court may not appropriately second-guess the voters’ choice ‘without displacing the people’s right to govern their own affairs and making the judiciary just another political tool for one faction to wield against its rivals,’” Kennelly concluded.