Illustration by Kathryn Rathke
Illustration: Kathryn Rathke

I was a government major at Georgetown, and I don’t think I learned one thing in class that helped me at all in the last 20 years. What I’ve said to so many students is, “If you really think this is what you want to do, you’ve got to work on a campaign, you need to work for an elected official. Because you’re not going to learn it in a classroom.

The tragic flaw among elected officials is ego. You need enough of it to put yourself out there, but too much of it is going to get you in trouble.

When I was in the state Senate, I’d be walking down a hallway and staffers would throw themselves up against a wall to get out of my way. This deference you’re given is one of the small ways you start to think of yourself as somebody you’re not. When people are constantly calling you “Senator,” “General,” “Governor,” it’s very easy for that to go to your head. I’ve always said, “Keep your friends from before you ran for office. Those are your real friends.”

When you have the legal authority to send people subpoenas, to do investigations, to bring lawsuits, you have a significant ability to effect change. I always enjoyed being the attorney general, because there’s no other position where you have that kind of ability.

I had been attorney general for a week or two when one of the people who’d been there during the Ryan administration said, “What are you doing here?” I said, “I’m working.” And she said, “Oh, Lisa. The attorney general never comes to the office.

I went to the dry cleaner the other day and there was a new person working there who said, “Oh, you’re so small. You look so big on TV.” Yeah, well, TV is a very cruel medium.

As a teenager, I remember sitting on the House floor in Springfield while they debated the Equal Rights Amendment and thinking, Why are we even debating this? How can this be controversial? They didn’t manage to pass that in Illinois until 2018. It’s insane.

My parents’ divorce was messy, but it made me strong. I was lucky and did much better with dads the second time around. Mike Madigan just embraced being my father. If I were Lisa Murray, I’d still be a lawyer. Would I have been an elected official? Probably not.

My husband, Pat, is a cartoonist who did a book called Captain Dad. There’s a funny illustration in it where he’s begrudging the fact that I’d come home for dinner and tell all these tales of slaying dragons. I’m dressed as a queen and he’s a frog — this poor mope who’s sitting there eating while the kids are mesmerized by me.

The best award I ever got was a jar of dill pickles that said “Speaker of Truth, Slayer of Dragons.” I just loved that.

People had really low expectations of me, which made it very easy to exceed them.

Teaching in South Africa was, without a doubt, the most impactful thing I’ve ever done. I lived in a convent and had enormous classes. My students, all Zulu girls, were the most engaged students I’ve ever worked with. This was in KwaZulu, an hour and a half from Durban, where at the time there were signs that said “These Beaches Are for Whites Only.” Seeing that as a recent college grad was shocking.

I started taking a Brazilian dance class at the Old Town School of Folk Music. One of the reasons is that it’s all-consuming; I can’t think about anything else. It doesn’t sound relaxing to a lot of people, but it gets me out of my head.

There are certain things I can’t believe we don’t teach in school, like how to have good relationships. Life is all about relationships. Everybody needs to realize that.