Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan continues to see her political star rise, observers say.
Since being narrowly elected in 2002 as the first woman attorney general in Illinois, the former state senator has begun to emerge as a national figure.
Just recently, the Democratic attorney general along with California Attorney General Jerry Brown negotiated the $8.4 billion multi-state settlement to end claims of predatory lending practices by Countrywide Financial Corp.
“Lisa Madigan is a rising star in Illinois politics,” said Mike Lawrence, director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale. “There are a lot of people who would like to see her go for governor in 2010.”
Madigan, who was just narrowly elected in 2002 with 50.4 percent support, was re-elected resoundingly in 2006 with more than 74 percent of the vote in her race against Tazewell County State’s Attorney Stewart “Stu” Umholtz.
“You don’t hear too many bad things about her, but you hear a lot of good things,” Lawrence said of the attorney general.
Madigan, who holds a bachelor’s degree from Georgetown University and a law degree from Loyola University, is the daughter of Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago.
Lawrence credited her political acumen to inheriting her father’s work ethic and her mother’s dynamic personality.
“She is substantive, and she also has a very good personality,” Lawrence said. “She has learned a great deal from her father as to how you go about and do your work professionally.”
Fears that Madigan would be a trial-happy opponent of tort reform groups have so far proven unfounded, said Ed Murnane, president of the Illinois Civil Justice League.
“She’s been a pleasant surprise to those of us who were concerned that she would be very closely aligned and sympathetic to plaintiffs’ lawyers,” said Murnane, who serves on the board of directors of the American Tort Reform Association.
Murnane noted that while Madigan would not be considered an ally of the tort reform movement, “She has not been the ogre some thought she was going to be.”
He said “problem attorneys general” are known for taking their consumer protection duties and responsibilities too far.
“I do not think that Lisa Madigan has gone overboard, at least not yet,” Murnane said. “She is probably to some extent trying to keep some of her powder dry because she is widely assumed to be keeping a pretty close eye on the governor’s office.”
Cindi Canary, executive director of the nonpartisan Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, said from her view as a government watchdog, Madigan operates her office with a great amount of transparency.
She noted that, among other things, Madigan has a policy not to accept contributions from her office’s vendors.
Madigan, she said, also recently “stood up” for legislation to fight “pay-to-play” politics, which Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich vetoed but the Legislature overturned.
“From the outside, her office appears to be a real model, where they take ethics very seriously and are very conscientious about trying to do the right thing,” Canary said.
Asked if Madigan is a rising star in Illinois politics, she said Madigan is already there.
“I don’t think it is a secret to anybody that she’s mentioned as a gubernatorial candidate,” Canary said. “But a lot of her luster is compared to the tarnish on the current governor.”