Former Gov. Jim Edgar, speaking on the Southern Illinois University Carbondale campus Thursday evening, said that House Speaker Michael Madigan is not the villain he’s often made out to be in the media and by his political opponents.

He should be “maligned a little bit” but the long serving speaker from Chicago has been “overly maligned,” Edgar said.

“He is not the problem,” said the former Republican governor who held Illinois’ highest office from 1991 to 1999, all but two years of which Madigan served as speaker. “He might be a little bit of the problem, but he is not the big problem.”

Who does Edgar think is the problem?

While he never mentioned Gov. Bruce Rauner by name, his analysis of the political standoff between Rauner and Madigan that has stretched on for 23 months and wreaked havoc on SIU was popular with much of the audience gathered in a Student Center ballroom to hear his talk sponsored by the SIU Paul Simon Public Policy Institute.

Edgar went on to say that it’s a myth that Madigan is the most powerful person in Illinois government. “Even a weak governor has far more power than the speaker does,” Edgar said, altering his words mid-sentence. “Not weak — there is no weak governor. Illinois is a strong governor state. Even a somewhat incompetent governor has more power than Mike Madigan.”

As Edgar paused momentarily — and then settled on the word “incompetent” -— there was a brief yet boisterous eruption of applause and laughter among the crowd. Edgar provided this critique of the ongoing budget stalemate in response to a question from Jak Tichenor, the policy institute’s interim director, following Edgar’s prepared remarks.

First noting that Edgar had worked with Madigan and a Democratic Senate president while he was governor, Tichenor then asked him what the secret was to working across party lines, and with Madigan, given that the current political climate makes a full budget deal seem ever more elusive.

Edgar acknowledged that Madigan could be “extremely difficult to negotiate with.” He joked that when he had to undergo quadruple bypass in his first term and while he was running for a second, that he dedicated one of those to Madigan.

But, he added, “Mike Madigan is not the bad person that he’s made out to be. Is he difficult? Yes. Is he wrong? Yes. Often. But it’s not all his fault. And, I found in my last years as governor … he was much more supportive of my efforts to balance the budget than my two Republican leaders were,” Edgar said. The former governor said he used to complain to the Republicans that legislators belonging to both parties wanted to spend more money than the state had, but at least the Democrats were willing to raise taxes to foot the bill.

The Southern Illinoisan