As Democrats bolstered their numbers in Springfield on Wednesday ahead of Gov.-elect J.B. Pritzker’s inauguration next week, Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan tried to urge cooperation while vilifying Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner on his way out the door.
Madigan, the longest serving House speaker in American history, won the gavel again Wednesday as a new class of lawmakers was sworn into office. Senate President John Cullerton was easily elected, too, capping a blue wave in November that helped give the Democratic party near total control of state government once Pritzker is sworn in Monday.
“Four long years of character assassination. Four long years of personal vilification. Four long years of strident negotiating positions, also known as ‘my way or the highway,’ ” Madigan said.
Rauner and Madigan sparred for much of the last 4 years, as the governor sought support for his pro-business agenda and the clash led to a historic 2-year budget stalemate. On the campaign trail, Rauner spent years and millions of dollars working to blame Madigan for most of the state’s ills.
“Some might say, as we put an end to these last 4 years, ‘Let’s just close the book,’ ” Madigan said. “Let me suggest, I think, something that’s a little better. As we do move beyond these last 4 years, let’s not just talk in terms of closing the book. Rather, let’s think in terms of closing one chapter of the book, (and) take lessons from that chapter so we can move to a new chapter where people work with people.”
Just one Democrat, new state Rep. Anne Stava-Murray of Naperville, didn’t vote for Madigan for speaker. Swearing him in was outgoing Attorney General Lisa Madigan, the speaker’s daughter.
“Congratulations,” she said. “You’re the speaker again.”
House Republican leader Jim Durkin of Western Springs also won re-election to head the GOP. He reflected on Madigan’s re-election with a quote from baseball legend Yogi Berra.
“It’s deja vu, all over again,” Durkin quipped. But he pledged the GOP would act in “good will and good faith” with Democrats, and asked the same from the speaker’s caucus.
Eyes will turn now to Pritzker, who attended the House ceremony. Pritzker takes over state government from Rauner on Monday facing big challenges. Illinois has a $7.4 billion pile of unpaid bills. Rebuilding roads and bridges will cost money. Payments for state worker and teacher retirements keeps going up. And that’s not to mention unexpected challenges any governor faces, such as natural disasters and changing political winds.
Rauner, meanwhile, presided over the Senate’s inaugural ceremony as outgoing Mayor Rahm Emanuel sat in the front row. The governor was applauded as he left the chamber afterward, perhaps for the last time.
“We may have had our differences, from time to time, but you took on a challenge when others merely complain from the sidelines,” Cullerton said to Rauner. “Thank you, and I wish you and your family the best.”
Senate Democrats have a 40-19 majority, such a big margin that some of them have to sit on the Republican side of the aisle because there aren’t enough desks on their side.
The new 101st Illinois General Assembly comes with significant turnover. The last 2 years of partisan fights, budget wars and tough elections mean about 30 percent of the lawmakers who took the oath on Wednesday were different from the person who sat in the same seat 2 years ago.
Madigan’s top deputy, Barbara Flynn Currie, didn’t run for re-election.
Madigan on Wednesday opened his remarks by asking for prayers for Currie, who he said checked into a hospital after feeling ill while traveling to Chicago.
The mood for the inauguration, though, was generally festive. The ornate Senate chamber was packed with lawmakers’ families applauding each other. Vases of colorful flowers sat on desks, and bunting hung from the gallery where spectators watch the proceedings. A mariachi band waited in a hallway behind the Senate chamber after the ceremony.
And though both parties at times talked of togetherness, the next 2 years Democrats will have the votes and a governor to do what they want without Republican input if they stick together. In his speech, Cullerton referenced Democrats’ 40 senators to Republicans’ 19, a margin so big it’s known as a supermajority.
“To leader Brady, congratulations. The Republican caucus chose wisely in turning to you for leadership,” Cullerton said. “You’re going to be, and I really mean this, a super minority leader these next 2 years.”
Mike Riopell reported from Springfield and Juan Perez Jr. reported from Chicago.
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