Worries about low Democratic turnout in an off-year election for an unpopular governor and Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner's millions in campaign spending are obviously driving much of Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan's personal legislative agenda this year.
"If you're an African-American on the South Side, what motivates you to vote for Pat Quinn when you wake up election morning?" was the blunt assessment of one longtime Madigan associate last week.
For example, Madigan signaled last week that despite his past reluctance to raise the minimum wage and longtime alliance with the Illinois Retail Merchants Association (which is leading the charge against it), he's not opposed. Calling the idea a matter of "fairness" and "equity," Madigan told reporters last week, "I think you’ll find the opposition to raising the minimum wage comes from people that have done pretty well in America, and for some strange reason they don’t want others in America to participate in prosperity."
Asked if he was referring to Rauner, Madigan asked "Who?"
Rauner claims to support an increase in the state's minimum wage if it's tied to business reforms, but Rauner previously "adamantly" opposed raising the wage and even once said he'd favor cutting it by a dollar an hour to match the national minimum.
Madigan made his comments shortly after the House Judiciary Committee unanimously approved Madigan's constitutional amendment to bar anyone being denied the right to register to vote based on race, gender, sexual orientation, income, national origin or religion.
Several Republican states have attempted to suppress Democratic turnout by requiring voters to produce a government ID before casting their ballots.
"According to the Brennan Center," Madigan told the committee last week, "approximately 25 percent of eligible African-Americans and 16 percent of Hispanics don't have photo IDs."
That's probably the first time the Speaker ever has publicly referenced the liberal group.
Madigan's proposal passed unanimously, despite some misgivings by Republicans. One GOP member of the committee, Rep. Dwight Kay, is actually sponsoring legislation to require voter identification this year, but he did not oppose Madigan's measure.
And the Speaker's proposed constitutional amendment to place a 3 percent surcharge on income over $1 million retroactive to this past Jan. 1 was moved forward on the House floor last week. No Republicans have yet to emerge as supporters, so Madigan will likely need all 71 of his members to pass the proposal, which requires a three-fifths supermajority.
According to numerous sources, Madigan's leftward lurch toward Gov. Quinn took Rauner and his GOP campaign by surprise. They believed that Rauner's personal relationship with the Speaker over the past few years would help salve the wounds and that the old school politician Madigan would understand the necessities of politics.
Instead, Madigan apparently took great offense at the constant attacks (at one point, Rauner vowed to "go after" Madigan's friends and allies to get at the Speaker), and the overwhelmingly negative reaction among trade unions to Rauner's harsh anti-union rhetoric has only fueled the Speaker's resolve.
Madigan long has been known as a politician who prizes pragmatism above ideology, but he's been about as loyal an ally to the trade unions as anyone in Illinois history. Even that's not solely about ideology, however. Those unions provide a lot of money and foot soldiers to Madigan's organization.
Rauner also apparently didn't use a backdoor channel to Madigan during the primary, which meant there was little to no ongoing communication between the men. Things obviously got out of control.
Madigan's moves have definitely not gone unnoticed by Rauner. Behind the scenes, some are saying that Rauner will counter this by contributing big bucks to House Republican coffers.
That doesn't seem to concern the Madigan folks. The Democratic legislative district map is pretty darned solid (as I reported in a recent Crain's Chicago Business column, in 2012, House Democratic candidates received 53 percent of all the votes cast in all House races statewide, yet they won 60 percent of the House races), and they've been successfully fending off the House Republicans for years.
But Madigan's poll numbers aren't good at all, to put it mildly, so there are plenty of other weapons in Rauner's arsenal. This could very well escalate into an all-out war. And Rauner has the bucks to do it.
• Rich Miller publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.