By Jamey Dunn
For our current issue of the magazine, I looked at the role of social media plays in Illinois politics.
There is no denying that social media platforms are an important place to get information if you are an avid consumer of Illinois political news. For example, Chicago Democratic Rep. Greg Harris, sponsor of legislation to legalize same-sex marriage in the state, posted this on his Facebook page Monday morning:
Harris does not say what “it” is but his page was soon filled with comments and posts from supporters of his bill. Backers of same-sex marriage have been pushing for a floor vote since Harris declined to call the bill during the spring session because he says there was not enough support to pass it. He has been coy about his intentions since, and this post is the first real hint he has given that he may call the bill this week.
While the role of social media is growing in Illinois politics, one caucus, the House Democrats, does not have a unified social media presence. A look at an analysis of the social media habits in other state legislative bodies from the National Conference of State Legislatures indicates that the lack of a caucus Facebook or Twitter profile is somewhat unusual. Arguably the most powerful figure in Illinois politics, House Speaker Michael Madigan does not have a Twitter account or Facebook page. But with the Internet providing such a tempting public platform for anonymous satire, there is a version of Madigan on Twitter that gives Statehouse observers a chuckle now and then.
Da Speaker is a satirical account that takes a comedic look at what might be going on in the mind of the infamously guarded figure. While the account is not nearly as famous as other parodies — such as the gloriously profane fake Rahm Emanuel profile, @MayorEmanuel — @SpeakerMadigan makes biting topical comments and has some real comedic payoff for those who follow Illinois politics with a laser focus.
For example, this is supposedly how Da Speaker celebrated Halloween:
Everyone got an apple tonight except the kid dressed as Andy Shaw. He got my cold stare and burst into flames. I mean tears.If you haven't been reading the paper lately, Madigan and Shaw, who is a former television news reporter and president of the Better Government Association, are currently nursing a bit of a media feud over a story that the BGA, in partnership with the Chicago Sun-Times, produced about Madigan's campaign workers also holding public sector jobs. The Twitter account often references the Madigan lore that the speaker eats an apple for lunch at the same time every day.
— Da Speaker (@SpeakerMadigan) November 1, 2013
As part of my reporting for the story that appears in the November issue, I asked Da Speaker a few questions via Twitter direct messages. He or she was willing to give some answers.
Q: When and why did you start the account? Were you inspired by any other specific parody accounts?
A: I was entertained by a number of parody accounts and one day it struck me that the speaker was interesting because so many people spend so much time trying to figure out what he's thinking.
Q: Who is your target audience?
A: The people who care what the speaker thinks are the target audience. It'll never be as big as @MayorEmanuel but If the political junkies (and politicians) are laughing, that's good. [By the way], when @mayoremanuel launched, the first thing he did was attack @speakermadigan. Make of that what you will.
Note: Da Speaker had more than 1,400 followers as of today. Those followers include reporters, legislators, lobbyists and communication staffers for Gov. Pat Quinn. By comparison, @MayorEmanuel, created by journalist Dan Sinker, has more than 48,000 followers despite not having a public tweet since 2011. The Twitter account, which was at its most active point when Emanuel was running for mayor, also spawned merchandise and a book
Q: How do you come up with your tweets/ set the tone of the account?
A: I try to keep it in the realm of exaggerated reality. What's the speaker thinking that he'd never say aloud? It's satire. Just for fun. A little edgy at times. I avoid cheap shots, I hope. I react to the news of the day. The ideas are the sort of smartass remarks reporters make to each other when passing time between stories.
Q: Are you surprised by the reaction/amount of followers? especially since you don't tweet very often. Do you plan to continue indefinitely?
A: I'm amazed it has gained a following among people who understand politics. It's a great audience.
Q: Do you plan to continue indefinitely?
A: I’ll continue until I'm no longer amused and/or until someone gets close to identifying me.
Da Speaker gave this in-character sign off: If you'll excuse me, I have business in the lair. You don't want to know.
Since Madigan does not have a Twitter account and reportedly does not own a cell phone, let alone a smartphone, it seems unlikely that he is a fan of his Twitter double. Steve Brown, his spokesman, said he does not know if Madigan is aware of Da Speaker.
“I have no idea,” he said. But he added, “Humor is always in the eye of the beholder.”