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2013 a Good Year for House Speaker Michael Madigan?

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Some political observers think that the powerful Illinois House Speaker, Michael Madigan, (D-Chicago) seriously stumbled in 2013. But they would be wrong.

When the Associated Press on Sunday rated the top 10 Illinois news stories of 2013, the top three and number 10 were new laws that bore Madigan's stamp.

"The Illinois General Assembly's much delayed agreement on fixing a $100 billion pension funding shortfall was the overwhelming, nearly unanimous choice among Associated Press members and staffers for the top story of in the state in 2013," according to the AP's December 29 story.

In addition to Illinois pension reform among it top stop stories, the AP cited: same-sex marriage; legislative approval of carry concealed of firearms; adoption of regulations to manage the oil-drilling practice known as "fracking"; the deadly tornados in November; ex-U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.'s prison term; the Chicago Blackhawks' Stanley Cup win; and the death of film critic Roger Ebert.

The presence of the AP's top choice -- pension reform -- and other legislative victories are largely due to Madigan.

In the case of pensions, the Speaker maneuvered both the policy and the political coalition upon which the bill's passage depended.

In an unplanned press conference, after exiting talks with his legislative counter-parts on Wednesday, November 27, Madigan answered a reporter's question of "Why now?" that explained the pension bill's end game.

"Why now? In the very end, I'll take appropriate credit," said Madigan. "I'm the one who came up with the idea to accede to Cullerton's request to use the full CPI and to accede to the Republican request to use more government money to get the total savings over $160 billion."

Madigan, who sidelined Governor Pat Quinn in final negotiations, shaped the final bill to yield savings not afforded by the earlier reform version backed by Senate Democrats and organized labor while he padded the House roll call with extra Democratic votes to make up for the dwindled band of House Republicans backing pension reform.

On same-sex marriage legislation that was approved in November, the bill proponents -- including House sponsor State Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago) -- noted it was Madigan who secured the final votes to win House approval. Madigan is credited with delivering as many as 13 votes from House lawmakers who were on the fence or even initially opposed.

The concealed carry bill that finally passed was a compromise driven by Madigan who concluded that inaction in the face of the federal court order demanding legislative action was not an option. Both the NRA and gun safety advocates would privately admit they could block the opponent's proposal but could not get their own bill to the governor. The concealed carry deal was hammered out in Madigan's leadership offices while the governor's representatives stood outside.

Fracking legislation, with State Senator Mike Frerichs (D-Champaign) in the pilot's seat in the upper chamber, raced through the Senate and gave the oil industry much of what they wanted. And the industry expected similar deference and swift action in the House.

But Madigan stunned the big money interests when he publicly announced during the spring his support for a fracking moratorium, siding with environmentalists. That got the industry's attention -- and concessions.

The final legislative package secured the necessary environmental protections sought by leading advocates while satisfying last minutes demands sought by the powerful labor union Operating Engineers Local 150.

The deal was negotiated in the Capitol's Room 300 -- Madigan's office.

Critics have argued that the Metra controversies, the surprise and inelegantly choreographed exit of Attorney General Lisa Madigan from the governor's race, and leaving in the literal dust ABC7 TV reporter Chuck Goudie, who stalked his office and home this summer, wounded Madigan.

The Speaker's wounds were misdiagnosed.

2013 was a good year for Madigan.

DavidOrmsby@DavidOrmsby.com

David also edits, with the help of Capitol Fax's Rich Miller, The Illinois Observer: The Insider. The article first appeared on The Illinois Observer's Web site.