Illinois Rep. Mike Halpin could lose Wednesday no matter how he votes when Mike Madigan is again put up for House speaker. But, at the very least, standing up to Madigan's iron grip on the state would signal Halpin isn't the lapdog his opponents claim.
Halpin, D-Rock Island, championed his "independence" throughout last year's campaign. Even many Rock Island County Democrats don't buy it, particularly allies of Pat Verschoore, whom the labor attorney replaced. They point to the hefty support for his campaign from long-time Madigan backers. They still highlight his staffing decisions, which bear Boss Madigan's fingerprints.
Halpin ducked the question when asked in September by the Quad-City Times editorial board if he would back Madigan's speakership. Gov. Bruce Rauner's Republicans last week pounced when Halpin again waffled when asked during a television interview.
The freshman Democrat finds himself wedged between his rhetoric and reality. He's wrapped up in a state GOP flush with Rauner's millions and suddenly relevant in the House.
Madigan, who also runs the state Democratic Party, is the problem in Illinois. The Republican campaign against him leading up to Wednesday's vote is incredibly shrill. But it isn't just hollow politics. Loving Rauner isn't a requirement for determining Madigan is the problem. For its part, Senate Democrats have been willing to haggle with the Republican governor. It's Madigan's House where change goes to die.
Skyrocketing budgets. Spiking taxes. Spiraling deficits. Governors have come and gone since 1983, when Madigan assumed the speakership. Boss Madigan is the constant here. In effect, Madigan's district — a few blocks in southwestern Chicago — has run Illinois for 34 years, and run it into the ground.
Madigan's got to go. A majority of Illinoisans agree, polls show.
But Halpin and his Democratic peers are likely to fall in line, just like they always do.
Chances are Mike Halpin will today support Mike Madigan. In so doing, he will delegitimize any previous claim of autonomy.
Make no mistake, even ceremonial opposition to Madigan could damage Halpin's constituents. Suddenly, the 72nd District finds itself written out of budget lines. Suddenly, Halpin has no power within his caucus. Suddenly, Halpin is isolated and feckless.
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But, at the very least, a protest vote for any Democrat willing to challenge Madigan would prove that Halpin meant what he said. Even a simple abstention, should no challenger rise, would send a powerful message.
Madigan won't release his grip on Illinois voluntarily. Only a rank-and-file rebellion will do.
Illinois House Democrats lost the super-majority in November. Throughout the state, Republicans armed with Rauner's cash, tied incumbent Democrats to the speaker who serves only entrenched special interests. Even Democrats themselves returned to their districts and criticized the "status quo" that's driving Illinois into failed-state status. They've done it for years.
And yet, they go back to Springfield and bow to their paymaster. It's a vicious cycle that assures Illinois' continual decline.
Mike Halpin toured the 72nd District promising something different. That pledge will be tested Wednesday.