She’s the other Madigan.
Two years after leaving a storied legacy in Springfield, Lisa Madigan’s powerful name and clean reputation as a smart, tough, uncompromising prosecutor still resonates with residents across Illinois, including Black folks.
Many voters still remember her as Illinois’ first female Attorney General. Democrats respected her and many dared not run against her. Republican opponents became her victims at the polls.
While her famous father ran his political machine in Springfield for four decades, his daughter carved out her own identity with a 16-year career that brought her widespread respect, admiration and a bright future that includes talks of greater political careers as governor of Illinois, U.S. Senator and even the U.S. Supreme Court.
Together, they built the “Madigan Brand,” but Lisa separately forged a political reputation that remained scandal free throughout her career as Illinois Attorney General. Today, two years out of office, she remains highly electable.
With an unblemished reputation, Lisa Madigan was poised to run against hugely unpopular Republican Governor Bruce Rauner, in 2018. She most likely would have won, but the overwhelming power and political presence of her father in Springfield kept her from pursuing her dream. Political rookie and billionaire J.B. Pritzker crushed Rauner in the General Election.
Today, Mike Madigan’s political career is over in Springfield. The question remains, will his daughter pursue an unfulfilled dream and challenge Governor J.B. Pritzker for the state’s top job?
It’s a question that’s been swirling since a ComEd bribery scandal forced Mike Madigan to release his grip on Illinois politics in January when he failed to win re-election as House Speaker, a position he held for over three decades.
Weeks later, he resigned as state representative for the 22nd District before stepping down as chairman of the Democratic Party of Illinois, which he held for 23 years. In 2019, Lisa Madigan ended her public career after making a stunning announcement that she would not seek a fifth term as the state’s longest serving Illinois Attorney General. She did not explain her decision or discuss her future plans.
For the first time in decades, both Madigans remain out of the spotlight, but for Lisa Madigan, a return to Illinois politics could be a possibility.
She currently works as a partner with the Chicago law firm of Kirkland and Ellis. The Crusader left several messages with her assistant; Lisa Madigan had not responded by Wednesday’s (March 10) press timefor the Crusader’s print edition.
Governor Pritzker’s term is up in 2023, but the election season is next year. Should Lisa Madigan decide to run against him, it would be an interesting, and perhaps intense, race. With the rise of women and minorities in Illinois politics, the political climate may be ripe for Lisa Madigan, given her sterling reputation among Democrats in Chicago and downstate Illinois.
Pritzker’s leadership and political influence was called into question last week after his endorsement of Alderman Michelle Harris (8th Ward) failed to get her elected as chair of the Democratic Party of Illinois. Congresswoman Robin Kelly won and became the first female to hold the position in the organization’s history.
Pritzker, however, has won praise for his leadership during the pandemic and his efforts in signing into legislation a landmark criminal justice reform bill that made Illinois the first state to eliminate cash bail requirements.
With nearly two years left in office, Pritzker has time to boost his profile among Democrats. Lisa Madigan has been out of the spotlight for two years, but she remains a big political figure.
A graduate of Georgetown University and Loyola University Law School, Lisa Madigan’s political career began in 1998, when she was elected Illinois state senator for the 17th District. In 2002, she was elected Illinois Attorney General after defeating John Schmidt for the Democratic Party nomination with 58.21 percent of the vote. She then defeated Republican Joe Birkett in the General Election with nearly 60 percent of the vote.
In her next three re-election campaigns, no one ran against Lisa Madigan in the Democratic Primary. In the 2006 General Election, she defeated Republican Stewart Umholtz with 72.45 percent of the vote. In the 2010 General Election, she defeated Republican Steve Kim with 64.72 percent of the vote. In the 2014 General Election, she defeated Republican Paul Schimpf with nearly 60 percent of the vote.
During her career as Illinois Attorney General, Lisa Madigan developed a reputation as a smart and tough leader who went after consumer fraud scams and cases involving identity theft and tax fraud.
In 2018, she filed a lawsuit against Trump International Hotel & Tower (Trump Tower) in Chicago for violating environmental laws and jeopardizing fish and aquatic life in the Chicago River.
Madigan alleged Trump Tower releases millions of gallons of water into the Chicago River per day without having conducted federally mandated studies of the impact its facility has on the river’s fish, and without the required National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit.
A year prior to her lawsuit, Lisa Madigan declined President Donald Trump’s invitation to the White House. She said she declined “on behalf of the many Americans harmed by his actions.”
In 2015, Lisa Madigan called on the U.S. Justice Department to investigate the 2014 police shooting death of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. When former Mayor Rahm Emanuel stalled on negotiations to enter into a consent decree following a scathing Justice Department report, Lisa Madigan in 2017 filed a lawsuit, calling for federal court oversight of Chicago police reforms.
She considered running against Governor Pat Quinn in the 2014 Democratic Primary and embarked on a campaign fundraising effort to boost her war chest. She eventually backed down and decided to seek a fourth term as attorney general.
In a statement at that time, Lisa Madigan said, “I feel strongly that the state would not be well-served by having a governor and Speaker of the House from the same family and have never planned to run for governor if that would be the case. With Speaker Madigan planning to continue in office, I will not run for governor.”
Lisa Madigan had long had her sights on becoming Illinois governor. When she announced that she would not seek re-election for attorney general, she had over two million dollars in campaign funds. But with her father still in office, Lisa Madigan again decided against running for governor.
Her departure left the door open for current Attorney General Kwame Raoul, who like most Democrats, held off running against Lisa Madigan as chances of beating her remained slim. But days after Lisa Madigan announced her decision to leave the post, Raoul announced his bid for attorney general.
With the political climate in bloom for female political leaders and her strong reputation, Lisa Madigan may have a chance at beating Pritzker in 2022. There may also be challenges. Some voters may have forgotten about Lisa Madigan, and others may confuse her with her father’s tarnished reputation.
Retired U.S. Senator Roland Burris, who served as Illinois Attorney General from 1991 to 1995, said Lisa Madigan would have a difficult time defeating an incumbent Democratic governor because of the limited Democratic voter base in Chicago and Illinois.
“I think she would have a tough time in the Primary. If she can win the Primary, she can win the General Election.”
However, Burris acknowledged that Lisa Madigan would win because of her name and reputation.
“Lisa is smart, shrewd, tough and very confident,” he said.