SPRINGFIELD, Ill. -- Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Thursday said that Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan should step down as chairman of the state Democratic Party, agreeing with the state's senior U.S. senator that the longtime political powerbroker's implication in a federal bribery investigation hurt Democrats in Tuesday's elections.
Pritzker made a more general statement on Wednesday that voters jaded by a spate of corruption involving Democrats had helped sink his administration's top priority, implementing a graduated income tax that would hit the wealthy harder and generate billions of dollars to help Illinois' sad fiscal state.
But after Sen. Dick Durbin, a Democrat from Springfield, told WTTW-TV Wednesday night that he blamed Democratic electoral setbacks on Madigan's refusal to step aside after he was named by the Justice Department as a participant in a decade-long bribery scheme admitted to by utility company ComEd, Pritzker went further.
"I agree with Sen. Durbin that opponents were able to tap into voters'concerns about corruption and their lack of trust in government ...," Pritzker said of the failed tax amendment. "The Republicans and the billionaires that sided with them were able to use the speaker as their foil and that hurt our ability, our state's ability to get things done."
When asked if that meant he supported new party leadership, Pritzker said, "Yes."
ComEd admitted in a deferred prosecution agreement signed with the U.S. attorney for the northern district of Illinois in July that its top administrators offered no-work lobbyist jobs and sub-contracts to allies of Madigan in exchange for favorable legislation. Madigan is identified in the document only as House speaker. He has not been charged with a crime and denies wrongdoing.
In a statement to ABC7, Madigan said: "I am proud of my record electing Democrats who support workers and families and represent the diversity of our state. Together, we have successfully advanced progressive policies that have made Illinois a strong Democratic state with supermajorities in the legislature. Illinois is the anchor in the 'blue wall' that has been reconstructed in the Midwest, and I look forward to continuing our fight for working families as chairman of the Democratic Party of Illinois."
Durbin, the Senate's No. 2 Democrat, who cruised to reelection to a fifth term on Tuesday, told WTTW-TV that Democrats "paid a heavy price" for Madigan's refusal to step away from the party chairmanship. He also has rebuffed calls to give up the speaker's gavel, which he has held for 35 of the past 37 years, controlling Springfield's agenda and choosing the politicians who pursue it.
"Candidates who had little or no connection with him whatsoever were being tarred as Madigan allies who are behind corruption," Durbin said.
In addition to the failed tax amendment, Democrats lost seats in the state House, Madigan ally and Supreme Court Justice Thomas Kilbride failed to win retention to a third, 10-year term. In central Illinois, Democrat Betsy Dirksen Londrigan, after losing to GOP Rep. Rodney Davis by 2,000 votes in 2018, was hammered in her rematch by a Davis ad that tied her to Madigan, although the two don't interact, that said "Betsy Londrigan will make Washington more corrupt."
WLS-TV contributed to this report.