WASHINGTON — The fire-engine red Capitol Hill office that led to former Rep. Aaron Schock’s downfall is gone. The newly painted walls are beige. The carpet is blue. The furnishings are standard government issue.
And that’s just the way state Sen. Darin LaHood, R-Dunlap, wants it. LaHood was elected last week to replace Schock, R-Ill.
“They made it very boring and plain,” LaHood said.
“We kind of turned the page with the election on Thursday. People want to move on. And so for me, having a very boring, dull office, just kind of routine, is what I prefer,” he said.
LaHood told me in a phone interview Saturday that he expects to be sworn in Thursday and will resign his state Senate seat in the next few days.
And so one chapter of the Schock saga ends, even as the criminal probe against him continues with a grand jury in Springfield.
The aggressively bland Darin LaHood and his dad, Ray LaHood, are bookends to what once was Schock’s fast-rising congressional career.
The senior LaHood represented the central Illinois district — which includes parts of Peoria, Bloomington and Springfield and spreads west to the Mississippi River — from 1995 to January 2009. After that, he served as transportation secretary in President Barack Obama’s Cabinet until July 2013.
Schock was elected to replace Ray LaHood, also a Republican, moving up from the state House. Schock seemed to have a lock on the seat forever.
The flashy Schock, who once showed off his abs while posing bare-chested for Men’s Health, resigned his 18th Congressional District seat on March 31. He left after questions were raised about his spending of government and campaign funds and other business dealings — all triggered by the gaudy “Downton Abbey”-style decorations in his Rayburn Building House office.
Darin LaHood immediately jumped into the race. In a district where Ray LaHood is revered — there are streets and highways in Peoria named for him — his son easily won the Republican primary on July 7. In the heavily Republican district, the special election last Thursday was just a formality.
LaHood walloped the Democratic nominee, Rob Mellon of Quincy, winning about 70 percent of the vote.
With Schock, LaHood said, “There is a lot of disappointment, sadness, frustration.”
People were “upset about what occurred, they feel like they were let down. And so what we talked a lot about in the race [was] giving people some reassurance, this is not going to happen again, giving people some confidence that I will go in there and not make those same mistakes.”
“People downstate are not used to these types of allegations being brought up. I mean those are usually things that happen in Chicago or other states,” he said.
Darin LaHood, 47, and his wife, Kristen, are the parents of three small boys.
He was born in Peoria and as a child he lived in East Moline, where Ray LaHood was a staffer for then-Rep. Thomas Railsback, R-Ill. Back in Peoria, his dad eventually became the aide to Rep. Bob Michel, R-Ill., and succeeded him when Michel retired.
Darin LaHood attended Spaulding Academy, a Catholic high school, and earned an undergraduate degree from Loras College, a Catholic school in Dubuque, Iowa.
After college, LaHood headed to Washington to work as a House staffer. After a few years, he moved to Chicago to attend the John Marshall Law School.
While in law school, LaHood started working for the Cook County state’s attorney office, first under Republican Jack O’Malley and then Democrat Dick Devine. After graduation, he put in a stint as a criminal prosecutor at 26th and California.
He moved back to Peoria to work as a Tazewell County prosecutor and then relocated to Las Vegas to become an assistant U.S. attorney. Returning to Peoria, LaHood joined a law firm and made an unsuccessful run for Peoria County state’s attorney in 2008. When a state Senate slot opened up in 2011, LaHood was appointed to fill it.
Darin LaHood is seen as more conservative than his father.
“He had his own career. I have my own career. I’m an attorney. He’s not. I spent 10 years as a state and federal prosecutor. He didn’t,” he said.
“We came up different ways. And I think my voting record in the state Senate and what I’ve advocated for is different from him,” he said.
I asked Darin LaHood what advice he got from his father, his mentor.
His reply: “Always remember who you work for. Stay grounded in your district. Be around and show up.”
Said the new congressman, “And I think the last thing is, ‘Don’t get intoxicated by money and power.’ ”