SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Illinois will now have a new House speaker for the first time in decades.
House lawmakers in Springfield have elected Rep. Emanuel Chris Welch to replace Michael Madigan and become the first Black speaker of the House.
“I would like to extend my heartfelt congratulations to Representative Welch on his historic win as he becomes our state’s first Black Speaker of the House,” said Governor J.B. Pritzker. “Speaker Welch has a record of championing legislation that has improved the lives of hard working Illinoisans, and I have enjoyed working with him to move our state forward. As Governor, I believe strongly that it is incumbent upon me to work with the General Assembly’s leaders who are chosen by their caucuses, and I look forward to continuing to work with Speaker Welch on our shared agenda.”
“I also want to recognize Speaker Madigan for his decades of service to the state of Illinois,” Pritzker continued. “Years from now, when historians focus on the legacy of the General Assemblies he has led, they will see beyond this chapter to the many achievements in the fight to lift up working families and those most in need, and they will especially acknowledge the necessary firewall that was built in the fight against Governor Rauner’s destructive agenda.”
Madigan released the following statement Wednesday after Welch was elected:
“As I prepare to pass the Speaker’s gavel to a new generation of Democratic leadership, I want to thank the people of my district and the members of the House Democratic Caucus for the faith and trust they have placed in me over the years. I want to thank my staff for their hard work on behalf of every member of this caucus. It has been the honor of a lifetime to help bring people of different experiences and backgrounds together to serve our state.
“It is time for new leadership in the House. I wish all the best for Speaker-elect Welch as he begins a historic speakership. It is my sincere hope today that the caucus I leave to him and to all who will serve alongside him is stronger than when I began. And as I look at the large and diverse Democratic majority we have built—full of young leaders ready to continue moving our state forward, strong women and people of color, and members representing all parts of our state—I am confident Illinois remains in good hands.”House Speaker Michael J. Madigan
On Monday, Madigan announced he was suspending his campaign for a 19th term as speaker. Madigan came nine votes short of gaining approval for the position Sunday. In his statement, he said the Democratic Caucus can work to find someone else who can get the 60 votes needed to be speaker.
Madigan has led the House almost continuously since 1983. He has been dogged recently by a Justice Department investigation into a bribery scheme involving utility ComEd.
The 78-year-old Chicago Democrat has not been charged with a crime and has denied wrongdoing.
Welch’s candidacy came with some scrutiny, as well. The Chicago Tribune reports, according to a 2002 police report officers were called to Welch’s home and an ex-girlfriend reported that he slammed her head into a kitchen countertop numerous time.
The woman did not press charges.
Welch released a statement about the incident:
This verbal argument occurred nearly two decades ago. I will be honest that I have reconciled with the individual since that night. In fact, after our dispute we sought out the authorities ourselves. Their family lives in my district and are proud supporters of my public service and work.
House GOP Leader Jim Durkin raised other concerns about Welch, his close ties to Madigan. Welch led the special House committee investigating Madigan’s role in the Com Ed scandal and ended the inquiry.
“Mr. Welch had a lobbyist reach out to me, two lobbyist reach out to me in the last 24 hours about his ascension in the House of Representatives,” Durkin said. “It’s very sad that Chris Welch went out of his way to keep that hearing from being what we had hoped for – open, transparent.”