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Analysis: Lisa Madigan changed her view about potential conflict — her father didn’t

Michael Madigan

Michael Madigan

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Updated: July 16, 2013 12:14AM

SPRINGFIELD — Less than three weeks ago, Attorney General Lisa Madigan was once again asked whether her father would have to step down as Illinois House speaker if she ran for governor in 2014.

Her answer sounded unequivocal: “He wouldn’t have to. He wouldn’t have to step down.”

But something changed dramatically since that late-June luncheon and her Monday announcement that she would not run for governor.

So what happened?

What happened to the possible Democratic gubernatorial candidate who had the most money in the bank, stood highest in the polls, had the best political organization at her disposal and amassed almost a half-million more votes in 2010 than Quinn did?

It appeared to come down to evolution in her thinking and her father’s unwillingness to cede the stage to her, an unfathomable decision from afar that to any parent seemed to put the speaker’s own interests ahead of his daughter’s.

The elder, House Speaker Mike Madigan, has made clear he saw no problem keeping a job he has held for 28 of the past 30 years if his daughter occupied the Executive Mansion.

“Why not?” Madigan asked reporters in September. “Why not?”

But Lisa Madigan seemed to come to see it otherwise, counter to what she was telling reporters, recognizing that a family’s desire for public service might be perceived instead by some voters as something entirely different: a power grab unlike anything Illinois has ever seen, something that would effectively turn a 195-year-old democracy into a monarchy.

“While she hasn’t said it publicly as she’s been doing the prep work, it’s always been her view that frankly the public would not at all be well served by a race where she’s running for governor, and her father is planning to remain speaker,” said Ann Spillane, the attorney general’s long-time chief of staff and a close friend.

The speaker, as he’s been known to do for long periods of time, was silent Monday. His press staff didn’t return phone calls, seemingly content to let the attorney general’s narrative dominate Monday’s news cycle.

That his continued presence would factor into her decision surprised some long-time Statehouse denizens, who watched Lisa Madigan literally grow up in Springfield, from the time she first visited the Capitol as an 8-year-old, to her doing chores as a teen in Madigan’s office, to her emergence as one of the state’s most popular and scandal-free politicians.

“There were many people who said she couldn’t be attorney general if her father was speaker of the House and chair of the Democratic Party, and that didn’t turn out to be the case,” said House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie (D-Chicago). “I’m a little surprised this would play into her decision.”

For all of his legendary mystique, the speaker got thumped this spring with a terribly unproductive legislative session that cast a cloud, fairly or unfairly, on his daughter. He didn’t help the effort to legalize same-sex marriage, for example, hurting Lisa Madigan’s standing with gay and lesbian voters. He angered public-sector unions by his push for pension reform. He didn’t appease liberals opposed to concealed carry.

And then this past week, the speaker’s name surfaced in an ethical train wreck at Metra, where he was accused by the transit system’s ex-CEO of being the juice behind some old-fashioned strong-arming in which Madigan sought a raise for a campaign worker employed there, sought to have another ally hired and left two Metra board members concerned he’d slash state funding if he didn’t get his way.

Spillane said none of that baggage factored into her boss’ decision not to run for governor.

“There wasn’t a tipping point in the last few weeks,” Spillane said. “None of the recent stuff has impacted her: the pension stuff, all the stories that are more about the speaker than about her. She has not viewed them in the same way as others have.”

No, if any politics quashed her much-anticipated run for governor, it was the family kind — and perhaps a reality Lisa Madigan first spoke about back in 1998, when she was elected to the state Senate and had to give a hard sell to convince her dad that politics was the right vocation for her.

“His concern, which he is absolutely correct about, is I will . . . end up bearing the brunt of his enemies. People who can’t attack him will attack me. I said, ‘OK. I recognize that. I think I have the strength to deal with that.’”

Maybe she will down the line. Now just two weeks shy of her 47th birthday, Madigan will inevitably again be mentioned as a candidate for U.S. senator, a state Supreme Court justice or possibly governor.

Just not in 2014 — or perhaps until her father retires.

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