Illinois House of Representatives: 34 years under Madigan's rule

    Illinois House of Representatives: 34 years under Madigan's rule (Photo by Rachel Droze)

    Thursday marked day two of Michael Madigan's 18th term as speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives.

    "Congrats, you're Speaker again!" Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan said after swearing in her stepfather Wednesday afternoon.

    The 76-year-old Chicago Democrat has held the position for all but two years since 1983.

    "To the members of the House that voted for me, I thank you very much for your vote," Madigan said. "For those of you that chose not to support my candidacy, let's have people work with people. Let's us work with other people."

    So how has one man held control for so long?

    It comes down to three things: protection, perception and power.

    Retired University of Illinois Springfield Political Science Professor Kent Redfield said the Speaker protects the members in his caucus.

    He said Madigan does that because he knows he can only be speaker if Democrats win re-election to keep their majority in the House.

    "The speaker is not going to ask a new member to take a tough vote that would cause them political problems when they are running for re-election in two years," Redfield said.

    Redfield said the Speaker's tenure has also changed how people perceive him.

    "When you have been speaker as long as the speaker has been speaker, then everybody tends to focus and think of you as the face of the legislature," Redfield said. "The House of Representatives can stop things from happening, but it's only one part of the puzzle in terms of making things happen. "

    The speaker's role also gives him the power to call or not call bills during session.

    "There's no question that the speaker exercises an extraordinary amount of power and has exercised it for a very long period of time," Redfield said. "But it literally rests on one vote at a time. Ultimately he has one out of 118 votes, but obviously his vote is much more important than anybody else."

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