From the Chicago SunTimes article written by Tina Sfondeles
Republicans are wasting no time exploiting allegations that House Speaker Mike Madigan retaliated against a fellow Democrat who questioned his handling of sexual harassment cases — following the lead of the GOP’s lead bankroller and chief “Blame Madigan” strategist, Gov. Bruce Rauner.
From Republican attorney general candidate Erika Harold seeking to pin the blame on her Democratic opponent state Sen. Kwame Raoul to GOP comptroller candidate Darlene Senger pointing fingers at Democratic incumbent Susana Mendoza for her “silence” to Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti dubbing Madigan the “harasser-in-chief,” the latest allegation shows how the crisis — and pending investigation, especially if it drags on — can benefit Republicans ahead of the November election.
But is focusing on the #MeToo movement a smart move for the GOP?
Some Democrats say bring it on.
“In general, people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. And when the leader of your party, President Trump, has admitted that he has paid off a porn star and has 19 or 21 sexual suits against him, I don’t think the Republicans should be calling attention to their biggest vulnerabilities,” said Kitty Kurth, a veteran Democratic consultant.
But Collin Corbett, a Republican consultant working on several legislative races, says the focus makes perfect political sense.
“You’re going to see this in every campaign. It’s going to be highlighted in every campaign, whether it’s for state Senate or state House, unless the Democratic candidate is willing to go out and oppose Mike Madigan, which none of them have the guts to do,” Corbett said.
Corbett said the #metoo movement “goes to the heart of Democratic support.”
“It goes to the heart of Democratic control of the state because they control the suburbs, and suburban women are the most important bloc in any statewide campaign,” Corbett said. “You’re not going to see this as much of a problem in Downstate races. You’ll see it front and center in the suburbs.”
Corbett said focusing on allegations that Madigan retaliated against one of his critics — and the #metoo movement itself — poses no risk to Republicans.
“The Republicans probably should be focused more on women’s issues in general. There’s a long, long way to go on that,” Corbett said. “But all you’re doing is pointing out that the other side has done poorly on this. You’re pointing out the hypocrisy on the other side.”
Madigan moved quickly to try to quiet the latest scandal surrounding his party and political organization. On Tuesday, he vowed to cooperate fully with any probe conducted by Legislative Inspector General Julie Porter into state Rep. Kelly Cassidy’s claims that Madigan’s allies retaliated against her after she criticized the speaker’s handling of harassment complaints.
Democrat gubernatorial candidate J.B. Pritzker distanced himself from the scandal — and Madigan — swiftly, being among the first to call for an independent investigation. He also met personally with Cassidy — who is a Pritzker supporter — on Tuesday in Springfield. Rauner’s campaign had urged Pritzker to “call Madigan out for his corruption.”
Harold’s campaign released a lengthy set of recommendations to address the “Democratic majority in the General Assembly’s failure to confront the #MeToo movement.”
“The failure by Speaker Madigan, Senator Kwame Raoul and the Democratic majority in the General Assembly to enact meaningful reform of the investigation and complaint resolution process is a failure of leadership,” Harold said in a statement. “Women deserve real reform, and as Illinois’ Attorney General, I will demand no less.”
Her recommendations include expanding ethics commission to include members of the public and changing a law to ensure an investigation is independent of the General Assembly’s influence.
Raoul, in turn, called Cassidy a trusted colleague and close personal friend.
“Representative Cassidy and I agree that this issue should not be politicized,” Raoul said. “It is too important, not only in her case but for all women. As Attorney General, I look forward to building upon this panel’s work to change the culture and ensure that all citizens have access to support and justice.”
And the Illinois Republican Party blasted out an email to try to bolster support for Senger, Rauner’s policy head who is running as the Republican candidate against Mendoza. It sought to tie the disarray surrounding the Anti-Harassment, Equality and Access Panel, which Madigan created — to Mendoza and what they call her “silence” on the issue.
“Multiple women have now come forward with stories of harassment and retaliation by the Madigan organization, yet Susana Mendoza has remained silent — failing to do her job, much less act like a leader in her party,” Senger said in a statement.
The panel, which includes Mendoza, state Sen. Melinda Bush and state Rep. Carol Ammons, in turn released a lengthy rebuttal, calling the attacks “nothing more than desperate politics being played on the part of Darlene Senger and the GOP, shamefully using the stories of brave women who have spoken up against sexual harassment.”
While Rauner did not address the latest claims against Madigan during public events on Wednesday, his campaign sent out his running mate as a surrogate to fan the flames in a central Illinois radio interview.
“Look at what happened to Kelly Cassidy. What message does this send to our young ladies out there? You see something, you say something and what? You get fired? You get retaliated against?” Sanguinetti said. “By the top harasser-in-chief. So we shouldn’t stand up for this. This should give you pause. This should give everyone pause.”
But even as Republicans use the #metoo movement against Democrats, the issue also has the power of unleashing a bevy of problems for the GOP.
As Cassidy has said publicly, the movement isn’t just about sexual harassment. It’s about a “this is how it works” culture that hasn’t seen big changes in decades.
Making #metoo a key campaign issue could open a Pandora’s box for both parties about representation of women in the Illinois General Assembly, wage gaps and perhaps, unleash still more damaging accusations.