Niles, Michigan — For decades, Mike Noonan was the perfect Illinois political insider. He was active in campaigning for Democrats in all kinds of communities and played a major behind-the-scenes role around legislation on the State Capitol.
After working for years on the staff of longtime Democratic Party boss Michael Madigan and as a top political operative, Noonan was a lobbyist with a long clientele in Springfield.
But a corruption scandal ended Madigan’s long reign last year. Noonan has since left Illinois entirely.
Last summer, Noonan hoped to make a gentler second career as an owner of an organic marijuana farm in this small city in southwestern Michigan, and as a certified “ganzier.”
Noonan, 54, says his political career in Illinois is over and he’s focused on fighting for the “craftweed revolution” in his new home across Lake Michigan.
Noonan says in a smock at his Southland Farm retail store in Niles, Michigan, about 100 miles from Chicago.
Noonan calls the Southland Farms shop “budtique.” This reflects the business’ purpose of providing cannabis consumers with an upscale experience and “quality weed.”
At the front of the store, next to the cash register, Noonan proudly displays the certifications he has earned. He passed courses in Northern California and was trained to guide cannabis users in the same way a sommelier advises wine drinkers, and he is one of fewer than 200 ganziers in the world. became.
Although he wasn’t personally involved in the Illinois corruption scandal, the Chicago suburban native says he felt it was the right time to leave the political arena.
“Let’s be honest,” he said. “Maybe I wasn’t very good at identifying people who shouldn’t participate in politics.
“For me, it was time to move on, because I had accomplished so much and I was happy with what I did.”
Noonan began working for Madigan’s staff in 1994, managing state legislative campaigns for his allies and others in the Illinois Democratic Party. He became more widely known 20 years before he managed his boss’s daughter Lisa his Madigan’s Illinois Attorney General’s first campaign.
Noonan enjoyed jumping outside of the press conferences of his Republican rivals and providing prompt rebuttals to reporters. was dissatisfied with
Even before entering politics, Noonan says he had a deep appreciation for marijuana. He had been using marijuana since 1986, when it was still illegal.
According to him, Madigan became aware of his weed habit in 1996 when a political competitor reported him. said he would not fire him.
“I was a hard working guy, but more importantly I think I was successful for them,” says Noonan. “And the reprimand he got from his boss at the time was, ‘You’ve been reported. There doesn’t seem to be any impact on your work. See you tomorrow.'”
Noonan also believes Madigan gave him the pass. And people can be good and they can be bad. Madigan’s attorney declined to comment on Noonan’s recollections of the incident.
ComEd Scandal Rocks Springfield
After helping Lisa Madigan acquire statewide offices, Noonan became a lobbyist for primarily corporate clients in Springfield.
Among the companies he represented at the Illinois State Capitol was Commonwealth Edison. In his 2020, the giant utility hired Madigan allies as consultants, giving them little to no work to win the favor of speakers who helped pass legislation that boosted ComEd’s profits dramatically. I admit I didn’t pay.
Madigan resigned last year and was indicted in a scandal, but he has denied wrongdoing and his lawsuit is pending in federal court.
Noonan’s then-business partner, Victor Reyes, won a contract for ComEd and his law firm as part of the power company’s efforts to please Madigan, according to federal court records and sources. Reyes has not been charged with a crime and Noonan has said it has nothing to do with Reyes’ law firm.
The situation took a toll on the business of the Roosevelt Group, a lobbying and public relations business Noonan owned with Reyes in downtown Chicago. Noonan said he sold his stake in the Roosevelt Group and was deregistered as a lobbyist in Illinois in July 2021, records show.
“I have been associated with many people who are no longer in politics, many because the federal government has decided they should no longer be in politics,” he said.
At that point, he said, he decided, “I need another act.”
new career in weed business
Noonan says he’s become one of the little guys trying to offer a more sophisticated, high-quality alternative to the products offered by the marijuana great interest.
Everything in his Michigan store is grown on site from seed. Behind the boutique, Southland Farms has his five climate-controlled rooms and dozens of highly pungent, leafy marijuana plants. All products are processed on-site and sold only there.
To become a gunger, he took six months of online training, three days of in-person classes, and a one-day exam in Humboldt County, California in July. Southland Farms opened in the same month.
Noonan’s office has just one reminder of his 25 years of political life. That’s the “His 24 Hours to Victory” sign at the 2006 Cook County Commissioner Todd Stroger’s campaign eve rally. A senator named Barack Obama showed up at the rally.
Noonan says the sign reminds us to “keep fighting until the end” and don’t hesitate to ask friends for help when you’re in trouble.
Dan Mihalopoulos is a reporter for WBEZ’s government and political team.