We can’t say when it will happen or how. Maybe more Democratic officeholders — why, hello, Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Mayor Lori Lightfoot — will work up the courage to call for the speaker of the Illinois House to step down. Maybe state party officials humiliated by the relentless percussion of FBI raids, subpoenas, wiretaps and indictments will admit they need a fresh face as state chair. Or maybe it’ll be a simpler scenario, in which Michael Madigan, master of his own timeline, abruptly quits or announces his retirement.

Whatever the means or the timing, we do know Madigan won’t wield his clout forever. His stature as Illinois’ most influential political figure is imperiled during this, his 50th year in the Illinois General Assembly. House Republican Leader Jim Durkin of Western Springs last week initiated the formation of a special committee, using Madigan’s own House rules, to investigate the speaker and allegations of bribery involving ComEd.

That’s pretty rich. The 129 pages of House Rules — culled during Madigan’s long tenure and designed to stifle opposition and streamline his power — bit him this time.

Madigan called the committee formation “a political stunt,” defended his tenure as speaker and dared Durkin to a transparency duel on patronage hires. Madigan’s umbrage, however, was misplaced. He’s the one linked to a federal corruption investigation, not Durkin or House Republicans.

Somewhere, a clock ticks.

We recently wrote that between now and Nov. 3, Illinois Democrats will be performing Olympics-quality gymnastics. They’ll profess to be disgusted by corruption while remaining silent on Madigan — and while spending campaign money and resources he has given them, even as he stands identified in federal court records as the alleged recipient of favors in exchange for his help in the legislature.

Madigan has denied wrongdoing and has not been been charged with any crime. But the drumbeat of Democratic scandals from Chicago to Springfield is a drag on other elected members of his party, especially suburban Democrats considered vulnerable in the November election. Will suburban voters reelect — or reject — incumbents who play two-faced games? Incumbents who pretend to be independent but rely on the speaker for staff and resources? Who reelected him speaker in 2019, despite a sexual harassment probe among his ranks and an unfolding corruption investigation?

Remember, only one Democrat out of 74 in the last election for speaker voted “present,” and she was Rep. Anne Stava-Murray of Naperville, who also refused his help on the campaign trail. Every other Democrat sat on his or her hands. So spare us, and voters, the fake outrage at what is now a full-blown federal bribery investigation aimed at the speaker’s operations.

What’s perplexing is that Democrats should want to liberate the party from Madigan. Many ambitious Democrats long have chafed at the sclerosis: Madigan and his loyalists cling so tightly to the arteries of power that a next generation of Democrats has trouble advancing. They get stuck, over and over, trying to defend his power to frustrated constituents in grocery aisles and at block parties and on doorsteps. It’s got to be exhausting.

As the gatekeeper of legislation, Madigan dictates most of what happens in the General Assembly. He makes the day-to-day decisions that govern which bills escape from committee, get called for debate and are passed or rejected. Not only does he pick committee chairs, he swaps Democratic members in and out like pawns so he can manipulate committee votes.

We’d wager that every member of his caucus is now caught up in a chatty parlor game: Who would succeed Madigan as House speaker? And if he goes, would legislators extract some ethics, transparency and fairness commitments from the next speaker? They better.

Rank-and-file Democrats know these decades of boss rule have been lousy for the people of Illinois. (Keep reading.) But Madigan’s sovereignty also has been lousy for them and for statehouse workers who have to run this government from underneath his thumb. During Madigan’s tenure, the Illinois Capitol has played host to indefensible episodes of sexual harassment, bullying of state employees, public corruption and sharp partisan gamesmanship, not to mention poorly managed state finances.

Stripping Madigan’s bossism out of the statehouse would be like opening the windows to a dusty attic. His departure would let Democratic legislators give less attention to a speaker’s agenda, and more attention to the constituents they serve.

More than three years ago we urged Madigan and then-Senate President John Cullerton to step down. Cullerton has done so. But with Madigan still around, Illinois’ crises endure.

Chicago Tribune

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