Ex-Illinois House Speaker Ends 50-Year Career Amid Bribery Probe

The longtime House speaker did not give a reason for his decision, but he was implicated in a utility bribery scheme last summer.

Then-Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan appears on the chamber floor in Springfield, Ill., on Jan. 8, 2021. (E. Jason Wambsgans/Chicago Tribune via AP, File)

(CN) — Illinois political icon Michael Madigan announced his resignation from the state House on Thursday morning, effective at the end of this month.

Madigan, a Democrat, has served as representative of the 22nd District in the southwest side of Chicago for 50 years. Since 1983, he had been House speaker for all but two years of GOP control in the mid-1990s before being ousted from the position in January amid a federal corruption probe.

Madigan did not give a reason for his resignation, but he hinted at the probe in his resignation letter.

“It’s no secret that I have been the target of vicious attacks by people who sought to diminish my many achievements lifting up the working people of Illinois,” Madigan wrote. “The fact is, my motivation for holding elected office has never wavered. I have been resolute in my dedication to public service and integrity, always acting in the interest of the people of Illinois.”

The bribery scheme that plagued the 78-year-old Democrat was highlighted in a class action filed in July 2020. The lawsuit claimed that utility giant Commonwealth Edison, or ComEd, violated the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act by conspiring with Madigan to solicit and pay bribes to influence passage of the Smart Grid Act, state legislation that allows utilities to automatically raise electric rates that are subject to Illinois Commerce Commission review after the fact.

Former state representative and ComEd lobbyist Michael McClain of Quincy, Illinois, was indicted in connection with the scheme in November and pleaded not guilty. McClain is a close confidant of Madigan, the Chicago Tribune reported.

Madigan has not been charged in connection with the scheme and maintains his innocence. Last summer, shortly after the allegations came to light, he released a statement through party spokeswoman Maura Possley, who said Madigan “has never made a legislative decision with improper motives and has engaged in no wrongdoing here.”

Despite his claim of innocence, Madigan was ousted as House speaker on Jan. 13 when he failed to garner the necessary 60 votes to secure another term in that role and the Democratic caucus instead elected state Representative Emanuel “Chris” Welch to replace him.

Madigan thanked his family and children for their support throughout his career as well as his staff.

“Fifty years ago, I decided to dedicate my life to public service,” Madigan wrote. “Simply put, I knew I wanted to make a difference in people’s lives. I believed then and still do today that it is our duty as public servants to improve the lives of the most vulnerable and help hardworking people build a good life. These ideals have been the cornerstone of my work on behalf of the people of Illinois and the driving force throughout my time in the Illinois House.”

Madigan’s letter highlighted his accomplishments, including his work to increase the diversity of voices in the House Democratic Caucus to include people of color and members of the LGBTQ community, protecting middle class wages, increasing the minimum wage, expanding access to health care, passing a law extending marriage equality for all Illinois residents and criminal justice reform.

The letter went on to highlight his collaboration with economic leaders to address issues in unemployment insurance and workers’ compensation systems. He added that opportunities were expanded in the tourism and film industry, and noted the creation of the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority that reinvented McCormick Place and Navy Pier, as well as the establishment of the Illinois Sports Facility Authority that kept the White Sox in Chicago.

The letter ended with, “I leave office at peace with my decision and proud of the many contributions I’ve made to the state of Illinois, and I do so knowing I’ve made a difference.”

Madigan will remain chairman of the Democratic Party of Illinois and Democratic committeeman for Chicago’s 13th Ward. According to the Tribune, the latter role gives him the ability to handpick who will replace him as the representative for the 22nd House District because he controls more than 50% of the weighted vote based on the number of ballots cast for him as he sought a 26th term in November.

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