LIVE: Welch prepares to take gavel as Illinois House speaker; Madigan bows out

12:19 p.m.

House Speaker Michael Madigan released the following statement Wednesday:

“As I prepare to pass the Speaker’s gavel to a new generation of Democratic leadership, I want to thank the people of my district and the members of the House Democratic Caucus for the faith and trust they have placed in me over the years. I want to thank my staff for their hard work on behalf of every member of this caucus. It has been the honor of a lifetime to help bring people of different experiences and backgrounds together to serve our state.

“It is time for new leadership in the House. I wish all the best for Speaker-elect Welch as he begins a historic speakership. It is my sincere hope today that the caucus I leave to him and to all who will serve alongside him is stronger than when I began. And as I look at the large and diverse Democratic majority 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 in good hands.”

11:52 a.m.

Illinois Republican Party Chairman Tim Schneider released the following statement in response:

“House Democrats have chosen to go from Mike Madigan, the most corrupt politician in America, to Rep. Chris Welch, a top Madigan lieutenant who has been credibly accused by multiple women in court documents of harassment, assault, and retaliation.

“It’s now clear that House Democrats are doubling down on allowing Madigan’s corrupt machine to continue running state government. In Madigan’s stead, they have promoted a serial harasser and assaulter of women. But in spite of that, Welch passed the most important test this fall – he’s been a loyal Madigan ally for years but performed most recently as Madigan’s human shield in legislative hearings investigating the sweeping corruption scandal that ultimately brought Madigan down.”

This decision is a travesty for the people of Illinois, and we will make sure every voter understands that House Democrats just can’t quit Madigan.”

11:21 a.m.

The House Republican Women’s Caucus has released a statement: “We applaud the House Democratic women who are courageously trying to end the status quo and toxic culture in Springfield. We strongly urge them to stand strong for all the women in our state in electing a leader that will stand for the principles we have all been fighting for, not only for us, but for our daughters and future generations.”

11:20 a.m.

During debate on the sweeping police regulation and criminal justice reform bill, state Rep. Andrew Chesney, R-Freeport, mentioned the speaker’s race.

“You guys are going to fire a person that has disproportionately hurt Black and Brown communities, and I applaud you for that,” Chesney said.

11:19 a.m.

Welch now has votes the 60 votes to secure the speakership for the Illinois House. Official on-the-record vote sometime after noon. This would mean longtime House Speaker Michael Madigan could be issuing his final “sine die,” ending an historic tenure as speaker.

Even if Madigan’s speakership ends, he still controls Democratic Party of Illinois political funds.

11:10 a.m.

Welch now has the votes to become the next speaker, according to one source.

10:11 a.m.

Illinois state Rep. Chris Welch received 55 votes to be the next speaker in the most recent Democratic caucus, according to two sources. He needs 60 votes to be the next speaker, replacing longtime Speaker Michael Madigan. That vote expected shortly after noon.

(The Center Square) – The new term of the Illinois Legislature begins Wednesday afternoon and all eyes are on who will be the next speaker of the House.

Longtime Illinois politics observer and University of Illinois Springfield professor Kent Redfield said whoever becomes speaker, they have to pledge to be independent of Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, who’s held the seat for all but two years since 1983.

“Whether [Madigan] finishes out his term or not, I don’t expect him to be the controller behind the curtain, I don’t think that’s going to happen,” Redfield said.

During the latest house Democratic caucus straw poll overnight, state Rep. Chris Welch reached 50 votes of the 60 needed to secure the speakership. Rep. Jay Hoffman received 15 votes and eight Democrats voted present. Rep. Ann Williams withdrew her candidacy, saying she couldn’t get the necessary support. Democrats plan to caucus again at 8 a.m. Wednesday before session kicks off at noon.

House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, said late Tuesday that Welch, D-Hillside, had lobbyists reach out for Republican support for Welch’s speaker bid. Durkin said Welch, a Madigan ally, should be disqualified from the position after blocking Madigan from testifying in a House investigation of the ComEd bribery scheme.

“To me, I consider Chris Welch an extension of Mike Madigan and we’ve got to break from the past,” Durkin said. “And trust me, Mike Madigan is going to do everything he can to pass the baton on to someone who’s going to continue the model of Madigan Inc.”

ComEd agreed to pay a $200 million fine after signing a deferred prosecution agreement with federal prosecutors last summer. In the agreement, ComEd admitted that officials with the company paid $1.3 million in jobs and contracts to Madigan associates in an effort to influence the speaker.

Welch and Durkin clashed through news conferences and letters over the House Special Investigating Committee that Welch chaired looking into the ComEd scandal. Republicans wanted to subpoena Madigan. Welch and Democrats on the committee blocked that and ended the committee’s work without hearing any testimony other than what ComEd volunteered.

Welch couldn’t be reached for comment, but he said early Wednesday that he thinks he has the 60 votes necessary to succeed Madigan, according to media reports.

Welch’s past issues with women have also come to the surface.

In 2002, an ex-girlfriend told police who were called to Welch’s home that Welch slammed her head against a countertop after an argument. The woman did not press charges, the Chicago Tribune reported. And in 2010, Welch was named federal sexual harassment lawsuit. In that case, a for sexual a different woman alleged she lost her school district job because she ended a relationship with Welch while he was the school board president, the Tribune reported.

“This verbal argument occurred nearly two decades ago,” Welch said in a statement. “I will be honest that I have reconciled with the individual since that night. In fact, after our dispute we sought out the authorities ourselves. Their family lives in my district and are proud supporters of my public service and work.”

Welch also blamed Republicans for digging up dirt on him.

“I must convey my dismay over the lack of decency displayed by the GOP politicians and their urge to use this report against me. At no other occasion have these events been brought up and I firmly believe my Republican colleagues are threatened by the potential growth of my profile,” he said. “I understand that the circumstances around this incident are troubling and I will, to the best of my ability, answer questions while respecting the other individual’s privacy.”

Durkin said nothing has been done with his request to Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White to put a temporary parliamentarian in place Wednesday if balloting for speaker becomes protracted.

Redfield said there is a historical precedent for dozens of ballots if no candidate gets the majority votes needed to lead the chamber. That could take days.

Madigan has not withdrawn his nomination.

No matter who is speaker, Redfield said it’s going to be a tough two-year term.

“Throw redistricting on top of fixing the budget crisis and restoring ethics to Illinois politics,” Redfield told WMAY.

The state’s budget is nearly $4 billion out of balance. A legislative commission on ethics and lobbying reforms has been stalled.

State Sen. Bill Cunningham, the assistant majority leader, said one issue the incoming legislature must focus on is helping businesses.

“One thing we really need to look at is assistance for the hospitality industry, for bars, restaurants, hotels,” said Cunningham, D-Chicago. “Those are the areas that have really been hurt the most and we need to find a way to help them. That needs to be right at the top of the list of things to do.”

But, Cunningham also advocated for closing what he called loopholes in the tax code. Republicans and business groups have opposed that move, saying it will mean a collective $500 million tax increase.

Republicans also said the priority needs to be on fixing problems like the state’s unemployment system.

In addition to serving as Speaker of the House, Madigan also serves as chairman of the Democratic Party of Illinois. The dual roles give Madigan control over the party’s political funds and control over what legislation is allowed to move through the state’s lower chamber.

Madigan’s reputation has taken a series of hits over the past several years. The most recent and serious was his implication in a nearly decade-long bribery and patronage scandal involving ComEd.

Before the ComEd scandal, Madigan faced heavy criticism for what some women described as a hostile work environment in Springfield. In 2019, the Illinois Legislative Inspector General found two Madigan employees harassed other employees and should never be allowed to work for the state again.

In June 2018, Madigan’s longtime Chief of Staff and Clerk of the House Tim Mapes was fired after House employee Sherri Garrett publicly accused him of bullying and repeated harassment over several years.

Just a few months earlier, in February 2018, Kevin Quinn, a longtime political operative of Madigan’s, was accused by campaign staffer Alaina Hampton of sexual harassment. He was later fired from both his political and state government jobs.

During Madigan’s tenure as speaker, Illinois’ fiscal position has deteriorated to among the worst in the nation. Illinois has the worst credit rating in the U.S. at just one notch above junk bond status, and the state’s five public pension systems are the worst funded in the nation. That’s despite Illinois taxpayers paying among the highest combined state and local taxes in the country.

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