A four-term Democratic representative from Oswego said Thursday she plans to challenge House Speaker Michael Madigan for leadership of the chamber.
Rep. Stephanie Kifowit said Madigan’s role in the unfolding Commonwealth Edison scandal prompted her to take the risky step of trying to unseat the longest-serving speaker in the history of the country.
Shortly after the federal investigation into ComEd’s activities became public, Kifowit sent a letter to Madigan saying he should step down as speaker.
"I feel he has compromised the integrity of the office of Speaker of the House and has undermined public trust," Kifowit said. "To me, that is not acceptable. It’s clear to me he doesn’t hold the values I do and I can surmise he falls short of what the public expects of elected officials."
She said it is an opportunity for the House to "move into the future and beyond the scandals and corruption of Michael Madigan."
Madigan released a statement saying he is focused on the upcoming election.
"I have spent my entire career supporting Democrats, regardless of differences in perspective within our party," Madigan said. "We are at a critical juncture in our country and all of us should be focused on coming together to defeat Donald Trump and repair the hate and division he has sown in our communities."
Kifowit said she has spoken to other House Democrats about supporting her bid. She declined to identify any of them because, she said, they fear retaliation. She would also not say how many offered their support.
Kifowit said she is not asking that Madigan resign his seat in the House, but that he should no longer serve as speaker. Since 1993, Madigan has served as speaker for all but two years.
Kifowit was first elected to the House in 2012. She is running unopposed for reelection. She chairs the State Government Administration and Veterans’ Affairs committees. She is a full time legislator.
Kent Redfield, a retired political science professor at the University of Illinois Springfield, said Kifowit’s announcement could put some pressure on Democratic candidates in closely contested House races in the suburbs. They could be pressed to declare whether they support Kifowit or Madigan for speaker.
"If you’re smart you say I don’t know who the choices will be," he said.
But he said it also helps keep Madigan’s name in the forefront through the election.
"It elevates the Madigan issue which is about all the Republicans have got," he said. "The timing of doing it before the election will not win Kifowit any friends in the Democratic caucus."
Madigan has been under a cloud since ComEd agreed to pay a $200 million fine for giving jobs and contracts to Madigan associates in an effort to curry favor with the powerful House leader. Madigan has not been charged and has denied any wrongdoing.
House Republicans forced creation of an investigating committee to look into the ComEd situation and determine if Madigan behaved in a manner unbecoming of a lawmaker. The three Republican members of the committee held a news conference Thursday to again press for subpoenas to Madigan and several other persons to compel them to testify before the committee about the ComEd case.
During that news conference, the three were asked if they would support Kifowit for speaker in an effort to oust Madigan from the post. The Republicans were non-committal.
Rep. Tom Demmer of Dixon said he wasn’t aware of Kifowit reaching out to any Republican House members and that he wouldn’t be surprised if other Democrats also got in the running. Rep. Grant Wehrli of Naperville also said other candidates might step forward. Rep. Deanne Mazzochi of Elmhurst the issue isn’t only a different speaker, but different House rules that are fairer to the minority party
The Republicans also said they are pushing ahead with trying to issue subpoenas to Madigan and other potential witnesses. Rep. Emanuel "Chris" Welch, D-Hillside, chair of the Special Investigations Committee II, said he thought it was too early in the process to issue subpoenas and that he hadn’t seen an draft copies of subpoenas. The Republicans said they have now submitted those drafts to Welch and are waiting for his reply.
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