Who’s No. 2? Get Ready to Rumble
Rauner may have vast power over doling out state contracts and jobs, but Madigan has the upper hand. That’s because of the position he’s perfected as the absolute gatekeeper of all things big and small. At a moment’s notice, he can turn the House into a legislative killing field. (Just ask Blago.) And thanks to his 71-seat Dem supermajority, which he kept intact despite the national GOP tidal wave last election, he’s got enough votes to swat down Rauner’s vetoes and block any borrowing the gov might want for capital projects.
Of course, Rauner is no shrinking violet either. On his full first day in office, he made that clear by signing a series of executive orders to freeze state spending and establish new rules on employee ethics. He also rescinded some eleventh-hour appointments made by his predecessor. The moves showed the speaker that he won’t hesitate to exercise his executive power. And when that doesn’t cut it, he can always turn to the jaw-dropping $20 million war chest he amassed before taking office, using it to reward legislators who vote his way and punish those who don’t.
It’s a big missile pointed Madigan’s way, but Rauner fires it at his own risk; the governor needs the speaker and Senate president John Cullerton (No. 37) to deliver on his long laundry list of campaign promises. Among them, freezing property taxes, increasing school spending, and revitalizing Chicago’s depressed neighborhoods. Failure to gain ground on these fronts would make him look ineffective, the very thing he slammed Pat Quinn for during the campaign.
This isn’t to say that Madigan doesn’t have any self-interest in a decent working relationship with the new governor. The speaker has Chicago and its many needs to protect. Still, he has the leverage to hammer the heck out of Rauner’s wish list if he wants. Take his about-face in January on holding a special election in 2016 to finish the late comptroller Judy Baar Topinka’s unfinished term. Initially, Madigan seemed content to allow Rauner to appoint someone. (The governor jumped at the chance, placing Leslie Munger, a Lincolnshire Republican, into the job.) Then Madigan changed course after Rauner’s power play of establishing the war chest. With Cullerton’s support, Madigan got a bill passed limiting Munger’s term to two years. It’s hard to imagine that move wasn’t meant as a reminder to the new governor that there are two paths: one of Blagojevichian antagonism and stalemate and one of détente.
The Winner: Madigan