Madigan is nation’s only House speaker to also serve as state party chair

Aug 01, 2017


As part of the ongoing feud between Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner and House Speaker Michael Madigan, Gov. Rauner recently alleged that Madigan’s part-time legal work on property tax assessments presented a “stunning conflict of interest.”  Compared to other state legislative leaders, Madigan’s part-time work as a lawyer is not uncommon, though many states do require stricter disclosure of clients for outside employment. Rather, the more unusual role filled by the Speaker is his position as Chair of the Illinois Democratic Party.

Outside employment for state leaders

In the ten most populous states, at least four State Senate Presidents, including Illinois Senate President John Cullerton, and five House Speakers, including Speaker Madigan, retain jobs outside of their legislative duties. These legislative leaders are generally employed as lawyers, with two of the four Senate Presidents and four of the five House Speakers also holding various positions at law firms.

Illinois House of Representatives Chamber

Illinois House of Representatives Chamber

However, some state legislators choose to step back from their outside jobs when accepting a leadership position. Joe Negron (R), President of the Florida State Senate, and John Flanagan (R), the Temporary President and Majority Leader of the New York State Senate, both resigned from part-time jobs at law firms upon taking their leadership positions. Negron, in particular, cited ethical standards as the reason for his resignation, while Flanagan was vague with his rationale.

Since many state legislative positions are part-time, and compensated as such, efforts to promote ethical conduct among legislators who hold other positions primarily focus on disclosure of clients or potential conflicts. A study by the National Conference of State Legislatures reported that half of the country (26 states) have laws requiring state legislators to disclose the names of individual clients when receiving income from sources beyond their state salaries.

When a legislator receives income outside of their state salary, Illinois does not require the detailed disclosure of the names and sources of that income. However, the state does require lawmakers to disclose, the “nature of professional services” and the nature of the source whenever more than $5,000 in outside income is reported from a single entity. 

State legislative leaders as state party leaders

State legislators who simultaneously serve as state party chairs are exceedingly rare. Among the 100 current Republican and Democratic State Party chairs in the nation, only nine also currently serve as state legislators. Of the nine, only two also serve in their party’s legislative leadership. This includes Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan (D), who has served as the Illinois Democratic Party’s Chair since 1998, totaling 19 years in the position. 

Michael John Gray (D), outgoing Minority Leader for the Arkansas House of Representatives, also served as Chair of the Arkansas Democratic Party for about two months while completing his term as Minority Leader earlier this year. After the close of the state legislative session in May, the Arkansas House Democratic Caucus elected a new minority leader because of Rep. Gray’s March election as party chair.

Speaker Madigan is the only state party chair that also currently serves as the Speaker or President of his or her chamber. Illinois Republican Party Chairman Tim Schneider also serves as a Cook County Commissioner in the 15th District. It is not common for state party chairs to also maintain an active role as a public elected official, although it is not unheard of, with at least 13 other state party chairs currently holding public elected office in the U.S. 

Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan and outgoing Arkansas House Minority Leader M.J. Gray

Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan and outgoing Arkansas House Minority Leader M.J. Gray

State party chairs serve as the representative of their party in that state, and are generally responsible for setting the party’s message and strategy, engaging with the media on behalf of the party, and organizing the party’s rank and file members. State Senate Presidents and House Speakers are responsible for representing and governing their respective legislative chamber. They may be tasked with keeping order, setting the agenda, moving bills along, and acting as spokesman for their chamber.

While a party chair is able to keep their focus on party interests, a legislative leader must also serve another role that transcends politics. ICPR Executive Director Sarah Brune explained, “It’s an age-old issue of separating politics and governance. A legislative leader is still a public servant, and has to keep the well-being of all Illinois residents in mind. Trying to manage politics and governance in this partisan environment is no easy task, and can present challenges if one person has to represent both interests.”

Outside of Illinois, it is very uncommon for an official to serve as both the party chair and the top chamber leader – and possibly with good reason. It may be difficult for officials to juggle what could be seen as conflicting responsibilities. In the case of Arkansas’ recent leadership changes, House Democrats were quick to put new leadership in place after Michael John Gray’s election as chair of the state party.


Related: Ex-Blaine principle resigns, promises to push CPS reform
Aug 30, 2016

This article originally appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times. Troy LaRaviere, a longtime fierce critic of Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the chief of the principals association, has penned a scathing resignation…

share to facebook share to twitter comment
Be the first to respond to this quote.
Add a Comment commt