Hastert calling it quits - Decision not to run sets off heated race for seat

SHARE Hastert calling it quits - Decision not to run sets off heated race for seat
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In this Aug. 17, 2007, file photo, Rep. J. Dennis Hastert, front, R-Ill., announces that he will not seek reelection for a 12th term as he stands on the steps of the old Kendall County courthouse with, from left, his son Josh; wife Jean; and daughter-in-law Heidi, grandson Jack, in Yorkville, Ill. | AP file

Former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert said Friday he won’t seek another term in Congress, a long-expected decision that still signals the start of a heated campaign to replace him by multiple candidates from both parties.

Hastert — who served as House speaker longer than any other Republican in history — cited as his legacy a list of legislation that cut taxes, changed national security laws and brought billions of dollars to his far west suburban district.

“Together we have made history. We have made a difference,” Hastert told hundreds of cheering supporters gathered outside the old Kendall County Courthouse in Yorkville.

The 65-year-old former high school wrestling coach didn’t rule out leaving office before his term ends in January 2009 — a move that could trigger a special election if it happens before next spring.

“I’m going to serve as long as I feel I can be effective,” said Hastert , who was House speaker from 1999 until last January, when Democrats took control. Hastert opted not to run for minority leader at that time, raising expectations that he wouldn’t seek another term in office.

GOP EXPECTS TO KEEP SEAT

Suburban Republicans said they expect to hold on to Hastert ‘s 14th Congressional District seat regardless of when he leaves.

“This is still a conservative area. It’s a district that I think is heavily Republican,” said Illinois House Minority Leader Tom Cross, an Oswego Republican. “You don’t take anything for granted, but at the end of the day, it’s a seat a Republican will hold.”

At least three Republicans have expressed an interest in running, including Geneva Mayor Kevin Burns, former U.S. Senate and gubernatorial candidate Jim Oberweis and state Sen. Chris Lauzen. Three Democrats also are expected to seek the seat — 2006 candidate John Laesch, lawyer Jotham Stein and Bill Foster, a former scientist at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia.

Foster said Hastert leaves a record that Republicans must defend to voters.

“Anyone who is running embracing the Hastert legacy will also be embracing the Bush legacy and the legacy of the war in Iraq,” Foster said.

Hastert , though, said he was proud of what was accomplished during his more than 20 years in the House — and particularly of legislation approved since he became House speaker.

“It’s incredible to consider what we’ve accomplished since,” Hastert said.

That includes what Hastert called “the two largest tax cuts in American history,” as well as changes in Medicare, Social Security and high-tech research programs.

He also cited what he called critical national security changes after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, changes that he said improved intelligence-gathering operations and worked to keep Americans safe.

In a statement, President Bush praised Hastert for his work.

“Drawing on lessons he learned as a coach, he successfully guided members of Congress to work together to enact legislation that has improved the lives of Americans,” Bush said.

drozek@suntimes.com

HASTERT ’S CAREER

  • Name: J. Dennis Hastert
  • Age: 65; born Jan. 2, 1942, in Aurora
  • Education: Bachelor’s degree in economics, Wheaton College, 1964; master’s degree in philosophy of education, Northern Illinois University, 1967
  • First elected to House: 1986
  • Years as speaker: 1999 to 2007
  • Family: Wife, Jean; two grown sons, Ethan and Joshua
  • Hobbies: Attending wrestling meets, fishing, restoring vintage automobiles, carving and painting duck decoys

DAN ROZEK, Sun-Times staff

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