SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — Illinois House Democrats threw their support Wednesday behind a Black legislator to take over as speaker, backing Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch to lead the chamber as Michael Madigan stepped aside from a job he'd held for nearly 40 years.
Madigan issued a statement conceding that the House needed new leadership after a morning Democratic caucus cast a majority of its votes for Welch, of the Chicago suburb of Hillside.
Welch emerged as the front-runner Monday after Madigan, who has been a lock in that caucus for 18 terms, wielded the gavel for 36 of the past 38 years. Madigan, the longest-serving legislative leader in modern U.S. history, failed in a Sunday test vote to get the 60 votes required to reclaim the gavel, largely because of a federal bribery investigation that’s implicated him.
“It is time for new leadership in the House," Madigan said in a statement. “I wish all the best for Speaker-elect Welch as he begins a historic speakership. It is my sincere hope today that the caucus I leave to him and to all who will serve alongside him is stronger than when I began.”
The 78-year-old Madigan has long been perceived as the most powerful politician in Illinois. Former Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, who tried to bring Madigan down, famously claimed that it was Madigan, not he, who was in charge.
Madigan took over just as a constitutional amendment reduced the size of the House, creating single-member representative districts and consolidating power at the top. Madigan took advantage of that, setting the agenda, deciding what legislation would be debated, and, after 1998, deciding whom the party would support for office after he took over as chairman of the Democratic Party.
But Madigan's leadership has been questioned in recent years.