CHICAGO — Republicans led by Gov. Bruce Rauner revisited a familiar theme Thursday, unveiling their latest effort to ask lawmakers and candidates to pledge opposition to longtime Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan and support for term limits on officeholders.
A spokesman for Madigan dismissed the effort as recycling a strategy long used by the Illinois Republican Party, which has spent many years and millions of dollars of Rauner's wealth attempting to brand the speaker as the source of the state's financial and political woes.
The FireMadigan.com website that Republicans launched in 2012 has now been replaced with a new iteration: FireMikeMadigan.com. There, visitors can see a list of lawmakers and candidates who have promised to vote for "anyone" for speaker of the House but Madigan. He has held the position since 1983 save for two years in the mid-1990s.
They've also vowed to support legislation that would let voters weigh in on whether lawmakers and statewide officials should be restricted to eight years in office. Among those taking the pledge is House Republican Leader Jim Durkin of Western Springs, who has held his seat for about 12 years, in addition to eight years as a lawmaker before that.
"If we are going to save this state, we have to change the status quo in Springfield and that is what this pledge is about," said Durkin, who contended that Democrats seeking office "must either sign this or explain why they will not sign it."
After the last election, Madigan was re-elected speaker with support of 66 of his 67 Democratic members despite Republican calls for his ouster.
While not a new line of attack for Republicans, a reboot could piggyback on internal turmoil in the state Democratic Party Madigan leads following several incidents in which top aides and allies have been accused of sexual harassment and inappropriate behavior. Some Democrats called on the speaker to step down as head of the state party in the wake of the accusations, which led to the resignation of Madigan's longtime chief of staff Tim Mapes.
Madigan has rejected those calls, but said he shoulders responsibility for not doing more to prevent a culture of harassment in the Capitol and in campaign offices. He's hired former federal prosecutor and former Rauner-appointed Illinois Executive Inspector General Maggie Hickey to conduct a review of operations of the Illinois House of Representatives.
"Any Democrat who says I don't want to sign the pledge, it's partisan or whatever, baloney," Rauner said during a stop in downstate Marion.
"There are plenty of people who that Democrat could vote for other than Mike Madigan," the governor said. "Even if you are a Democrat, don't stay loyal to Mike Madigan, stay loyal to the citizens of your district."
Madigan spokesman Steve Brown countered that Rauner and Republicans "need a diversion from the deaths and the cover-up at the Quincy Veterans Home, so it's not surprising they would recycle this campaign." He was referencing the outbreaks of Legionnaire's disease at the state-run home that has led to the deaths of 13 residents since 2015.