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politico – Illinois elects first black speaker after decades of Madigan rule

“Today will be the last time I speak of us as Democrats and Republicans,” Welch said in a speech to lawmakers after becoming president. “I want to talk about us as being united. We will work together to be united.”

The speaker’s race was very suspenseful. What started last year as a stirring legal and political soap opera – sparked by a corruption scandal around a local public service – has turned into a rare opportunity to shed his old leadership: Welch, originally from the Chicago suburb of Hillside, practically cleared the field when it officially entered the race on Monday shortly after Madigan’s retirement.

The outgoing speaker, who has wielded the hammer almost continuously since 1983, has been gracious in the transfer of power.

“It’s time for new leadership in the House,” Madigan said in a statement Wednesday. “As I look at the large and diverse Democratic majority that we have built – full of young leaders ready to continue moving our state forward, strong women and people of color, and members representing all parts of our state – I am confident illinois remains healthy. hands.”

Madigan had spent months working in the Democratic caucus, which controls the chamber, to get the 60 votes needed to keep his post.

And he had plenty of leverage: In addition to his power to determine what legislation proposes and to define the staff of Democratic lawmakers, Madigan leads the state party. In this job, he distributes campaign funds as part of a machine system where Democratic candidates try to “be part of the program.”

But Madigan never recovered from an open rebellion within his caucus last fall, when 17 members – more than enough to deny him the necessary votes – announced plans to block him from another term.

Madigan supporters began pulling out last summer after being embroiled in a federal payment-to-play program involving Commonwealth Edison, a subsidiary of Exelon Corp. The utility agreed to pay a $ 200 million fine. and admitted that he had tried to win Madigan’s favor. by offering jobs and contracts to its allies in exchange for favorable legislation.

Like former party leaders of the past, Madigan wielded influence in all areas of state government, starting with Chicago, where his father was Democratic constituency captain. Madigan got his start at a time when the system of political patronage was buzzing and elected officials had the power to distribute jobs in the city to loyal country workers.

It is this kind of political assistance that feeds the ComEd investigation today.

The veteran lawmaker was not charged, but the investigation was particularly important after the November election, when Illinois Democrats lost seats in Congress and the State House and the tax referendum progressive governor failed.

Illinois Gov. Senator Dick Durbin, JB Pritzker and other Democrats have denounced that the ethical cloud has created distrust among voters.

“We have paid a heavy price for the presidency of the Chairman of the Democratic Party,” Durbin said on a local television broadcast the day after last year’s election. He called on Madigan to step down from his position as leader of the state’s Democratic Party.

That did not happen, but a few Democrats in the Madigan caucus have tapped into the times and have publicly said they will not vote to re-elect Madigan as president.

Republicans, meanwhile, have pushed for an investigation into Madigan’s involvement in the federal investigation. Welch led the hearings and drew criticism from the GOP for slowing down and blocking the process.

When Democratic lawmakers met on Sunday, Madigan’s deficit was larger than expected. He had garnered just 51 votes while the rest were distributed among other candidates, including two female parliamentarians – another historic moment since no woman has ever run for Speaker of the House in Illinois .

Master of counting the votes for bills, Madigan did not have a clear path. He suspended his presidential campaign on Monday, but left the door open to return if Democrats didn’t give someone else 60 votes.

Within hours, Welch – a member of Madigan’s management team – launched into the speaker race with the endorsement of the Black Caucus, a stronghold of 22 votes.

Then Welch encountered a problem. Tension ensued in the middle of Tuesday’s poll when the Chicago Tribune published an article about allegations Welch abused women from 2010 and earlier.

“I do not take these allegations lightly,” Representative Anna Moeller said after Tuesday’s vote. “But I was happy with Chris’s explanation of the events.… We’re working really hard here to pass legislation that protects women. And Chris has a great track record on women’s issues. And I think he’s sincere. in its support for women’s issues.

The story spread like wildfire, and observers outside the General Assembly wondered if it would damage Welch’s reputation with women parliamentarians. That was not the case. On Wednesday morning, in a third ballot, Welch won 55 votes – more than Madigan before stepping down.

Behind closed doors, Welch and Rep. Jay Hoffman, the only challenge right now, met to talk about their stalemate and, within an hour, Welch was almost unanimously elected by Democrats and the vote. in the plenary chamber with the Republicans became a mere formality.

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