Last week, the Illinois General Assembly made two big (and somewhat contradictory) legislative moves: the Senate passed Senate Resolution 3 limiting state senators serving as Senate president or minority leader to a maximum of 10 years (5 terms) per position, and the House re-elected Rep. Mike Madigan to his post as 17th term as House Speaker. Rep. Madigan’s re-election makes him the longest-serving House speaker in any state in modern American history.
This record comes despite Madigan being massively unpopular, with 63 percent of registered voters in Illinois somewhat or strongly disapproving of Madigan’s performance as Speaker. His highest approval ratings come from Chicago, where just 32 percent approve of his tenure, while 56 percent stated their disapproval.
As Illinois Policy points out, Speaker Madigan has a sizable amount of legislative power over the General Assembly, and therefore the state’s population of nearly 13 million, despite him being voted into office by just the 22,000 voters in his district.
Senate Resolution 3, while taking effect immediately, is a Senate rule and therefore does not apply to Rep. Madigan in the House. Ongoing gridlock and the lack of cooperation between the state’s elected Democrats and Republicans has gradually sidelined debates regarding policy and substance, escalating to Republicans targeting voters in 18 districts with robocalls decrying the re-election of Rep. Madigan.
It wasn’t always like this. For nearly 100 years, Illinois was the only state that used fair representation voting to elect their state House representatives. Under fair representation rules, there were three-winner districts where like-minded voters were able to elect a preferred candidate, making representation per district more accurate to the populace. When the Cutback Amendment of 1980 ended this practice and switched representation to single-winner districts, politics in Illinois became less representative and more inert. Coincidentally, Rep. Madigan has been a leading opponent to an 2016 amendment for independent redistricting, which was removed from ballot after the state Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional.
As an Illinois state senator, President Obama once introduced a bill that would have implemented instant-runoff voting (also called ranked choice voting) for congressional and state primary elections, and for general elections in local jurisdictions.
If Illinois citizens can’t have independent redistricting, they could move to undo the Cutback Amendment and adopt ranked-choice voting, both of which will provide voters with a greater selection of diverse candidates, fairer representation, and more collaboration both within and outside party lines.