Every election cycle, House Democratic candidates have to pay what can be thought of as a "Madigan Tax."
The “tax” is the amount of extra campaign money, labor and ingenuity required to overcome the voting public’s strong negative perception of being in any way associated with House Speaker Michael Madigan.
Back in October 2012, a Chicago Tribune/WGN-TV poll found that 38 percent of Illinoisans had no opinion either way about Madigan. Of those who did, 22 percent approved of his job performance, compared to 40 percent who disapproved.
And then Bruce Rauner got into the game and his constant, well-funded attacks on Madigan made the longtime House Speaker much better known to the average voter.
Just 11 percent of voters had no opinion of Madigan in a 2017 poll taken for the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute. Not only did lots more voters know who Madigan was, they also despised him. Madigan’s disapproval rating was 61 percent in that poll, well above his 26 percent approval rating.
That could explain why Madigan’s House Democrats lost four net seats in 2016, despite a strong statewide win by Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Part of the blame can go to Donald Trump, who did well in downstate areas held by Democrats, but a big reason was that the Madigan tax had become too high in those districts.
The "#MeToo" controversy swirling around Madigan these days has the potential to make that tax rate even more prohibitive for Madigan's operation. Madigan had to dump two top campaign advisers and more controversy is almost undoubtedly on the way.
With that in mind, keep an eye on the 17th House District Democratic primary race on the tony North Shore. The district is represented by Rep. Laura Fine, D-Glenview, who is unopposed in the Senate primary. Fine and several other local political leaders have endorsed Jennifer Gong-Gershowitz. But Candace Chow has enough money and support to compete.
"Candace Chow didn't need Mike Madigan to get from a trailer park to Kellogg Business School," declares her latest mail piece. "And she doesn't need him now."
Chow’s campaign took a poll late last year which found 60 percent of the district's likely Democratic voters had an unfavorable view of Madigan, while just 36 percent of Democrats viewed him favorably. Seventy percent of the district’s Democrats expressed doubts about voting for a candidate who was backed by Madigan and his team.
Chow has taken to demanding that Gong-Gershowitz return Madigan's campaign contributions. The House Speaker has dumped over $50,000 into the Gong-Gershowitz bid so far, mainly on mail and staff.
"It's become clear that Jennifer's campaign is under the control of Mike Madigan's political operation," Chow said in a press release. Chow's release also noted Madigan "is under a growing cloud from charges of sexual harassment."
Last week, Chow called for Madigan's resignation from his party chairmanship "in light of continued reports of sexual harassment and abuse of power within his political operation."
There are six candidates in this primary race. Whatever happens, Chow's attempt to turn Madigan's already controversial contributions into fatal poison with the "MeToo" issue is a first. And it might just spread. He could possibly wind up being “taxed” out of existence.