Illinois Government Essentials

2020-21 Democratic Leadership Transitions

Following an arguably lackluster 2020 election and "new" federal indictment involving allegations tied to House Speaker Michael Madigan, momentum quickly formed signaling the possible end of Speaker Madigan's tenure. With 73 House Democratic caucus members selecting the chamber's leader in 2021, no more than 13 could oppose Speaker Madigan's leadership, which was already well over that threshold going into the January 2021 House Democratic meetings.

Although not an exact metric, the generic party preference of voters in a district may help indicate the type of legislator representing that district. As of a week before the Speaker selection, the voters in districts with legislators opposing Speaker Madigan tended to support top of the ticket Democrats in competitive statewide or federal races slightly less than the overall caucus average, and significantly less than the "Black Caucus," Latino Caucus, and Progressive Caucus; however voters in districts with legislators opposing Speaker Madigan tended to support top of the ticket Democrats similar to the "Women's Caucus." While opponents of former Speaker Madigan made the debate possible, it was ultimately the most democratic leaning caucus among House Democrats that decided the House Speaker result.

Prior to recent House leadership debate, the Illinois Senate underwent a similar debate in January 2020 that involved party identity issues regarding policy, race, and corruption after Senate President John Cullerton abruptly announced his forthcoming retirement on the last day of the 2019 fall legislative session.

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Closing Out a Legislative Session & Handling an Impasse

Consistent with past legislative sessions, the 102nd General Assembly will face difficult financial realities that will need to be managed by a small number of political leaders and likely ushered through the finish line over the course of the final two weeks of May in a manner that feels rushed but necessary. An arguable starting point for this financial review begins with the Governor's outlined budget for fiscal year 2022 with some new revenue streams and new use of current revenue streams, which will all be subject to negotiations through the legislative appropriation committees. Let's take a look at how in recent history just a handful of strategic votes can make the difference.

In reviewing 2019 voting roll calls in the House chamber, we can begin to see nuances in what is so often portrayed during election season as simple Democrat versus Republican slogans. While a graduated income tax did receive near unanimous support among House Democrats, legislation involving a minimum wage, abortion rights, gun rights, and recreational marijuana were not voted on uniformly among Democrats or even Republicans.

The following 2019 House roll calls include a note regarding the policy being addressed by the Democratic legislative proposal and highlight in red where Democrats did not support the legislation along with two policies (i.e. recreational marijuana and gun rights) where Republicans arguably did not vote in line with their own party. From the most to least supported by the House Democratic members, the policies involved a graduated income tax, minimum wage, abortion rights, recreational marijuana, and gun rights. For the graduated income tax, the highlighted House Democrats include a note reflecting the final order of votes in support of the bill as well as one not voting.

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And as much as Chicago Democrats often "control" legislative priorities at the Illinois capitol building, in the 2019 fall legislative session we saw how issues with gambling expansion and local construction projects can pressure Democrats and Republicans outside of Chicago to come together in a manner uniquely frustrating to Chicago Democrats when a technical gaming cleanup bill passed but a Chicago casino cleanup bill did not...

By Hannah Meisel for The Daily LineNovember 15, 2019

In July 2017, the Illinois legislature voted to end the longest budget impasse in state and national history. For those watching closely, we saw how controlled voting can be in the General Assembly and how essential it is to know where votes are being protected or available.

(video credit, Reboot Illinois)
As a note for those who watch the video, 71 votes were needed in support of the veto override motion. This moment in Illinois history involved numerous political alliances, but the overarching story line was a political battle between the Governor, a Republican who vetoed the budget, and the Speaker of the House, a Democrat who has held that leadership position for over three decades. The budget proposal at issue in the summer of 2017 involved an income tax increase, so with the next election cycle less than a year away, legislators with potentially close races were cautious in their voting. With the voting open until the Speaker of the House gavels voting to a close, 71 votes slowly made their way onto the board, and once the threshold was met, legislators could safely vote against the motion knowing the budget would still pass.