Rep. Emanuel ‘Chris’ Welch secures votes to be elected next Ill. House Speaker

He needed 60 votes to take over leadership of the chamber.
In this May 25, 2016 file photo, Illinois Rep. Emanuel Chris Welch, D-Hillside, speaks to...
In this May 25, 2016 file photo, Illinois Rep. Emanuel Chris Welch, D-Hillside, speaks to lawmakers at the Capitol in Springfield, Ill. State legislators are attempting to boost immigrant protections in response to President Donald Trump's forceful orders on immigration, a move advocates say would essentially make Illinois a "sanctuary" state. One proposal sponsored by Welch says schools, medical facilities and places of worship don't have to give access to federal immigration authorities or local law enforcement working on their behalf.((AP Photo/Seth Perlman, File))
Published: Jan. 13, 2021 at 12:24 PM CST
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CHICAGO (CBS) — Historic change is coming to the Illinois House in more ways than one, as sources say Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch is poised to become the first African American to be elected Speaker of the House in Illinois, taking the gavel from embattled Speaker Michael Madigan.

Sources told CBS 2 Political Investigator Dana Kozlov that Welch has secured the necessary votes from House Democrats to win the speakership when the new Illinois General Assembly is sworn in Wednesday afternoon. He needed 60 votes to take over leadership of the chamber.

Welch, a Democrat from Hillside, and close ally of Madigan’s, spent the past three days lobbying his fellow House Democrats for support after Madigan suspended his own campaign for Speaker on Monday. At the time, Madigan challenged the House Democratic Caucus to “work to find someone, other than me, to get 60 votes for Speaker.”

Madigan, 78, led the chamber for 36 of the past 38 years, and steps down as the longest-serving state House Speaker in U.S. history, losing his seat only after he was implicated last year in the sweeping ComEd bribery scandal.

Despite Madigan’s nearly 40-year reign as Speaker, during which he became seen as the most powerful politician in the state, it had appeared certain for weeks he would not get another term, after 19 House Democrats announced last year that they would not vote to re-elect him, leaving him short of the 60 votes he needed. On Monday, he announced he was suspending his campaign for speaker, opening the door for Welch to join the race.

Since then, Welch secured the backing of the 22-member Black Caucus and the 9-member Latino Caucus, but still had to work hard to win over enough votes from his fellow House Democrats to become speaker, which didn’t happen until less than an hour before the new Illinois General Assembly was sworn in on Wednesday.

Welch clinched the speakership late Wednesday morning, as House Democrats met privately to make their choice for who would lead the chamber.

During an internal vote Tuesday night, Welch got 50 votes for Speaker, Rep. Jay Hoffman (D-Swansea) got 15 votes, and 8 Democrats voted “present.” Rep. Ann Williams (D-Chicago) and Rep. Stephanie Kifowit (D-Oswego) dropped out of the race on Tuesday. Rep. Kathleen Willis (D-Addison) dropped out Sunday.

At another vote Wednesday morning Welch got 55 votes, still five short of the 60 he needed. After further talks within the party ranks, Welch won out, and 69 House Democrats voted to back him for Speaker.

Welch has been a lawmaker for eight years and chairs the powerful House Executive Committee, which Madigan had used to control the fate of key legislation.

The Illinois Republican Party slammed Democrats’ choice of Welch for the new speaker as “a travesty for the people of Illinois.”

“It’s now clear that House Democrats are doubling down on allowing Madigan’s corrupt machine to continue running state government,” Illinois Republican Party Chairman Tim Schneider said in a statement.

Schneider also accused Welch of acting as a “human shield legislative hearings investigating the sweeping corruption scandal that ultimately brought Madigan down.”

Welch chaired a special committee that was tasked with investigating Madigan’s connection to the sweeping ComEd bribery scandal, but he ended the probe without ever questioning Madigan himself, and without the panel reaching any conclusions.

Madigan has been under fire for months over the ComEd bribery scandal. Last July, federal prosecutors accused ComEd of a yearslong bribery scheme that sought to curry Madigan’s favor in advancing legislation relaxing state regulation of ComEd’s rates by directing $1.3 million in payments to the speaker’s associates. ComEd acknowledged it stood to benefit by more than $150 million from that legislation.

ComEd has entered into a deferred prosecution agreement with the feds, and has agreed to pay a $200 million fine, enact a number of reforms, and cooperate with investigators in exchange for prosecutors dropping charges in 2023 if ComEd lives up to its obligations.

In November, longtime Madigan confidant Michael McClain, former ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore, former ComEd executive and lobbyist John Hooker, and former lobbyist Jay Doherty were charged with bribery conspiracy, bribery, and willfully falsifying ComEd books and records. They have pleaded not guilty. That followed the September guilty plea by a former ComEd vice president, Fidel Marquez.

Madigan, 78, has not been charged with a crime, and has denied any wrongdoing.

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