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WWLD? What will Lisa (Madigan) do? It’s THE question

LisMadigan. File  I John H. White~Sun-Times

Lisa Madigan. File I John H. White~Sun-Times

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Updated: May 30, 2013 5:27PM



When a potential statewide candidate asked Lisa Madigan recently what she planned to do with her political future, the Illinois attorney general laughed as she reportedly answered: “Wouldn’t you — and my staff — like to know.”

Add just about any other statewide political contender to that list.

That’s because there may be no bigger question in Illinois state politics right now.

Madigan’s public flirtation with a 2014 gubernatorial bid has a slew of politicians lining up — and waiting — to see if the North Side Democrat is in or out.

Comments Madigan made earlier this year hinting at a run have already launched behind-the-scenes jockeying among Democrats and Republicans, demonstrating that her political future is key to the calculus of just about anyone interested in a state-wide political future.

If she decides to enter the governor’s race, it is sure to scare off possible contenders who wouldn’t want to go up against the powerful Madigan dynasty, not to mention her own popularity.

It will surely mean a primary battle, however, as Gov. Pat Quinn is in, regardless of what Madigan does.

“That’s an absolute. That’s not a decision, he’s running for re-election,” a campaign spokeswoman said.

Quinn, who has been actively fund-raising in recent weeks — including a recent fund-raising trip to Los Angeles — believes the party would be better off without a primary battle, the spokeswoman said.

Nonetheless, Lisa Madigan’s decision will put a domino effect in motion.

The prospect of her leaving the Illinois attorney general position has other pols eyeing that job or other posts that might open up as office holders leave them in their quest to move up.

“She is an absolutely unbeatable office holder for any office she runs for in the state of Illinois,” said political consultant Don Rose. “There is no point for any Democrat to run against her, they would go down to ignominious defeat. Most people recognize that so they aren’t making a move until she announces. ”

Aside from being the daughter of the most powerful politician in the state, Lisa Madigan by her own right is an undoubtedly formidable candidate.

She dominates the Democratic field in the polls, has rock-solid name recognition and has already stockpiled $3 million in campaign cash.

She has told others she would make an announcement when the session in Springfield concludes.

Yet there’s another question looming over the Madigans — the fact that her father remains the powerful speaker of the Illinois House. Michael Madigan also heads the state’s Democratic Party.

“Honest to God, it is incomprehensible to me that you would have a speaker who is as powerful as he is and then have his daughter as governor,” said state Republican Party Chairman Pat Brady.

“It will be a big issue, it will be a national story, if that comes to pass. I cannot imagine the major donor community having the stomach for it. … What happened to checks and balances? On so many levels it is not good for the state — I believe. I think that’s a big, big issue that she’s going to have to address early.”

Rose said while the issue is a real one, he doubts it would gain enough traction to hurt Lisa Madigan’s run.

“The question would come up: Is this putting too much power into one family? It’ll affect the election, marginally, I think,” Rose said. “It’s not enough to defeat her by any means. It would probably be the only issue against her. Stacked up against the power of Mike’s organization and her own popularity, it would be a real issue, but it wouldn’t drag her down.”

Lisa Madigan’s supporters sidestepped the issue.

“The attorney general has not made a decision about her next steps, so any discussion of specifics beyond that is premature at this point,” said a source close to Madigan who asked not to be named. “There will be plenty of time to address a whole host of issues if that becomes necessary.”

For his part, Michael Madigan shrugged off the question when asked about it last year at the Democratic National Convention.

His spokesman, Steve Brown, shuddered at the mention of the word “conflict,” saying he would like reporters to define that word and tell him how it was appropriate in this case.

On the question about a possible concentration of power in one family, Brown dismissed the notion.

“What about it? When she ran for the state Senate we had that, when she ran for attorney general … I think the verdict at the end of both of those situations were things worked out pretty well for the people of Illinois,” Brown said. “The bottom line is, I have nothing really to say until it becomes anything but a highly speculative situation.”

In the meantime, among those waiting in the wings is Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon who has already announced she is breaking away from Quinn in 2014. When Simon told Quinn last year she planned to run for higher office, she mentioned the office of comptroller.

But Simon, an attorney and daughter of the late Illinois political icon Paul Simon, is believed to have a keen interest in Lisa Madigan’s spot, though she has not publicly declared which statewide office she is eyeing, except to say it is not governor.

“She is meeting with a number of influential people around the state, and she is talking with donors about her plans,” said her spokesman Bill Doerrer.

Others possibly interested in running for attorney general include Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart and state Sen. Kwame Raoul.

William Daley, the former U.S. Commerce Secretary and brother of the ex-Chicago mayor, is unlikely to move forward as a Democratic primary challenger against Lisa Madigan.

In January, Daley told the Sun-Times she would not be a factor in his decision to run.

“If I get in the race, I’m in the race. I’m not going to worry about who I’m running against,” Daley said. “That’s not an issue for me.”

But early polling has shown Daley lagging against Madigan. While he recently penned an op-ed piece discussing the state of Illinois’ finances, Daley has not set up a campaign committee. When talking to the Sun-Times though, Daley did note he did not run for statewide office when his brother, Richard M. Daley, was mayor.

Major Illinois GOP fund-raiser and onetime gubernatorial candidate Ron Gidwitz said if Madigan doesn’t announce before the summer, serious candidates would be wise to move forward without knowing her intentions.

“She has the luxury of waiting, and everyone else has to make a decision,” Gidwitz said. “I just can’t see how anyone can wait until September or October except her. Otherwise they’ll lose a whole quarter of fund-raising.”

On the GOP side, those expressing interest in gubernatorial runs include state Sen. Bill Brady (R-Bloomington), the 2010 GOP nominee for governor; state Sen. Kirk Dillard (R-Hinsdale); venture capitalist Bruce Rauner; Illinois State Treasurer Dan Rutherford; and U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Ill.) and possibly Dan Proft

, co-host of the WLS 890 radio morning news talk show, “Bruce Wolf & Dan Proft.”

Rutherford said in an interview he’s expecting to make an official announcement in late spring or early summer.

As for Lisa Madigan’s future, it isn’t factoring into his decision, he says.

“It doesn’t matter to me if any individual gets in this race,” Rutherford said. “We will make the decision or the announcement regardless of the Democrats or Republicans in this race.”

Of course, if Rutherford vacates his treasurer post, that will be part of the domino effect.

The names of possible contenders are already swirling, including state Sen. Mike Frerichs and possibly Michael Carbonargi of the Cook County Board of Review.

“Quite candidly, she’s a very well-respected attorney general,” Gidwitz said, referring back to Lisa Madigan. “She will be a tough opponent. On the other hand, we have some really qualified candidates and hopefully we will win in November of next year.”



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