It’s time for the Illinois House Black Caucus to stop supporting Mike Madigan

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The representative of the State of Illinois, Maurice West, rose. And standing alone.

I do not know the legislator of the Democratic state of Rockford. It will not return my messages.

I know West is the only lone member of the 22-member Illinois House Legislative Black Caucus who does not support Mike Madigan’s proposal to continue as Illinois House chairman. This makes the West a precious rarity for tumultuous political times.

West is alone, but he is standing.

At a recent forum hosted by the Black Caucus, Madigan pledged to support his program. He has also pledged to increase the state’s flat-rate income tax if Governor JB Pritzker so chooses, according to a report by Rachel Hinton, the intrepid political reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times.

On Wednesday, the caucus approved Madigan for re-election as chairman. The only other declared candidate is State Representative Stephanie Kifowit, a Democrat from Oswego.

“After analysis, we believe our caucus is in a more advantageous position under the leadership of President Madigan to deliver on our priorities,” the caucus statement said.

“We need a speaker who will provide strong and consistent leadership and support for the challenges ahead. ”

These “daunting” challenges include repairing the damage “to black communities due to long-standing systemic divestment, the challenges arising from COVID-19, and of course the underlying reasons.”

Madigan’s muscles, say black lawmakers, are essential to their ambitious political agenda, as they call for criminal justice and police reform, education and workforce development, as well as ” access to health and the economy.

Madigan desperately needs the caucus. He is the primary target of the massive and ongoing federal investigation into Commonwealth Edison. Last month, prosecutors indicted four of his associates with corruption. Madigan has vigorously denied any wrongdoing, but the investigation has cast a shadow over Springfield.

West and 18 other Illinois House Democrats have said they will not support Madigan as speaker in the Legislative Assembly vote on Jan. 13.

That would leave Madigan six votes short of the 60 he needs to stay in power. But with the Black Caucus in their corner, no one else can turn 60 either.

The caucus, which represents black voters in the Chicago area and upstate, struck a deal to keep the 78-year-old white speaker in office for at least two more years, in hopes that Madigan will support an African American to replace him.

The caucus is not standing.

Instead, it is just one more of decades of behind-the-scenes deals that still leave us African Americans begging for our priorities never having been prioritized.

Agreements that for decades have been the drag that kept black lawmakers and their constituents captive to someone else’s agenda.

Madigan has been a speaker for nearly 40 years because he has deployed his accumulated power in the service of one goal: Stay in power.

Now he finds himself on the precipice of a federal indictment. Now he needs us.

This moment is unlike any other. The confluence of the police assassination of George Floyd, the COVID-19 pandemic, and political upheaval from Washington to Springfield make this a singular moment for unprecedented change.

The Black Caucus has the power, at the moment, to negotiate its own agreement, to install one of their own as a speaker.

It is time we moved our own agenda forward, on our own terms. We don’t need to do a backstage deal greased by old whites.

The West knows it. Yet he is alone, probably under great pressure, and in enormous political danger.

He knows we don’t need Mike Madigan to save us.

It’s time to step out of Madigan’s shadow. It’s time to save us.

Laura Washington is a political analyst for ABC-7 Chicago. Follow her on Twitter @mediadervish

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