The best journalists are the ones who ask tough but fair questions.
Ethically challenged politicians don’t like those journalists and often try to silence them because they don’t like the questions being asked.
Greg Bishop is one of those journalists.
Michael Madigan, elected Illinois House Speaker for the 18th time Wednesday, is one of those politicians.
Bishop has covered state government in Springfield for Illinois News Network and Illinois Radio Network for more than four years now. In that time, he’s written almost 2,000 stories.
As long as the state Capitol is open and something’s happening, Bishop is likely there, doing his job – keeping his eye on how government spends your tax dollars.
Like workers everywhere, he has a right to do his job without others attempting to harass or bully him.
Sadly under the dome in Springfield, that right hasn’t existed for far too many workers for, well, decades.
Since about June 2017, Madigan has done his best to try and bully Bishop. It doesn’t work. But that doesn’t stop Madigan from trying.
This week marked the latest episode.
At a media gathering Monday inside the Capitol, a number of reporters huddled waiting for Madigan, expecting him to emerge to discuss the end of one session of the General Assembly and the beginning of another. Bishop was among them.
When Madigan joined the group of reporters, he began as he has all too often in the past year-and-a-half, by singling out Bishop.
"Which one is from the Policy Institute?" he asked snidely, referring to the Illinois Policy Institute, a nonprofit free market think tank that has been critical of Madigan’s policies and leadership. The institute launched INN as an independent project in 2012. INN was acquired from the institute by the Franklin Center for Government and Public Accountability last year, but has had independent editorial leadership since its launch.
In response, the speaker’s longtime spokesperson, Steve Brown, pointed at Bishop and said, "Right here."
"Illinois News Network," Bishop politely and professionally corrected.
Madigan, House speaker for all but two years since 1983, immediately pointed to a television reporter to Bishop’s left in the collection of reporters and stated the apartment complex where he lives.
"And you live in Lincoln Tower," Madigan said.
Wondering why Madigan would be telling a fellow journalist that he knows where he lives, Bishop asked if the questions were a form of intimidation.
"Yeah, right," Madigan responded.
"Only if you want them to be," Brown added.
Only if you want them to be.
On its own, the exchange could be shrugged off as a couple of entitled political bullies acting unprofessionally in the workplace. But this was not an isolated incident. This was yet another example of a long pattern of harassment and intimidation that has been part of the culture of the state Capitol for decades, all while Madigan ruled the House.
Bishop himself, by his count, has had close to a dozen similar experiences with Madigan and Brown. Many of them have been captured on video. But the harassment neither starts nor ends with him.
As the #MeToo sexual harassment movement spread nationally in 2017, more than 300 Illinois women with ties to state government signed a letter demanding a change in culture in Springfield that allowed rampant harassment – sexual and otherwise – to occur under a veil of secrecy. The accusers, afraid to speak out publicly for fear of retribution, remained mostly anonymous. As some did eventually speak out, many of the accused had close ties to Madigan.
A short and incomplete list of those connected to the speaker:
• His longtime former chief of staff Tim Mapes, fired after a state employee publicly accused him of what she said was years of sexual harassment that went unaddressed.
• Two Madigan campaign staffers, fired after being accused of inappropriate behavior involving subordinates that dated to 2016.
• Longtime Madigan lieutenant and House Deputy Majority Leader Rep. Lou Lang stepped down from his leadership position in 2018 after being publicly accused him of sexual harassment. Lang resigned his House seat this week.
• Lawmakers accusing Madigan of intimidating them after they either wouldn’t vote for him for speaker (see Democratic Reps. Scott Drury and Anne Stava-Murray) or criticized him for allowing decades of harassment go unchecked at the capitol (see Democratic state Rep. Kelly Cassidy).
That’s just the short list. There are plenty more.
"If there weren’t such a toxic culture in Springfield, in an ideal world would I have spent more than a few years as a state rep? Absolutely," freshman lawmaker Stava-Murray told INN when announcing she planned to seek a U.S. Senate seat after her one and only state House term is done. "I don’t feel like I should have to go to an unsafe workplace for more than two years."
Madigan is the boss. He sets an example that’s plain to see, and for those in his clique to emulate. He creates the boundaries for acceptable behavior, and then has a hand in determining the repercussions.
The Illinois State Capitol will remain an unsafe workplace for too many people as long as Madigan remains speaker.