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About John Dennis "Denny" Hastert
John Dennis "Denny" Hastert (/ˈhæstərt/; born January 2, 1942) is an American politician, lobbyist and member of the Republican Party who was the 59th Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, serving from 1999 to 2007. He represented Illinois's 14th congressional district for twenty years, 1987 to 2007.
He is the longest-serving Republican Speaker in history. Hastert was reelected to an eleventh term in Congress in the 2006 general election, however, the Republican Party lost its majority in the House and Hastert did not seek a leadership position in the 110th Congress. Instead, he resigned his seat mid-session and became a lobbyist. Hastert endorsed former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney for the 2008 Republican Presidential nomination before Romney withdrew from the race. He endorsed Romney again for the 2012 nomination.
Hastert was born in Aurora, Illinois, the eldest of three sons of Naomi (née Nussle) and Jack Hastert, and grew up in Oswego, Illinois. His father was of Luxembourgian and Norwegian descent and his mother was of German ancestry. As a young man he worked in the Plainfield, Illinois, family restaurant "The Clock Tower" as a fry cook. He briefly attended North Central College but graduated from Wheaton College, Illinois, in 1964, and earned a master's degree in History of Philosophy from Northern Illinois University, in 1967. Although Hastert was high school "football and wrestling star" and a wrestler at Wheaton College in the 1960s, he was later injured, and as a result never served in Vietnam. After a stint teaching English in Osaka, Japan, he moved to Yorkville in 1964, 55 miles (89 km) west of Chicago, and took a job as a sociology, economics, and speech teacher at Yorkville High School from 1964 to 1980. He also coached wrestling and football, leading the wrestling team to a state title in 1976. His family owns the locally famous fried chicken restaurant, "The White Fence Farm," in Bolingbrook, Ill.
Illinois House of Representatives
In 1980, he was elected to the Illinois House of Representatives and served three terms, becoming the ranking Republican on the Appropriations Committee.
Election to Congress and early congressional career
In January, 1986, John Grotberg, the Congressman from Illinois's 14th congressional district, was undergoing cancer treatment at NIH and experienced a coma that lasted five weeks. Grotberg started rehabilitation as he came out of the coma, but by June was still not well enough to run for office and withdrew his name from the ballot. (He died on November 15). As this was an unprecedented situation, the twelve county chairmen would seek legal guidance on the correct procedure to choose his successor.
WLBK/DeKalb's Program Director Mark Powell, 26, waged a protest campaign on local radio complaining that the GOP leadership planned to "hand pick" Hastert as successor without popular approval, and that Hastert did not live in the congressional district until the nomination.
Hastert was nominated by the Republican congressional district convention held at the Illinois Math and Science Academy in Aurora, Illinois. This convention was attended by all precinct committee members from within the represented district. Each was assigned a weighted vote based upon the total number of Republican ballots cast in their respective precincts in the most recent primary election. Dr. Richard Verbic, Mayor of Elgin, Illinois, was the only other candidate to be nominated that day. (Mayor Verbic had been defeated by Grotberg in the 1984 GOP primary.)
After long hours of voting, it became clear that the majority of votes were going toward Hastert. A motion was made to suspend voting and to nominate Hastert. The convention acclaimed Denny Hastert its nominee.
The nomination was not without controversy. Hastert's detractors complained that Grotberg's condition had been distorted and Mayor Verbic had been smeared for his age. This controversy dogged Hastert through the general election, which would be his closest race for Congress. Hastert faced Democrat Mary Lou Kearns, the coroner of Kane County. Hastert ran a typical GOP campaign in a strongly Republican district and received 52 percent of the vote. On February 2, 2010 Hastert's son Ethan lost a bid for the GOP nomination.
After that, he never faced another election nearly that close, especially after redistricting in the 1990s made the district even more Republican.
During his first twelve years in Congress, Hastert generally kept a low profile. However, he worked closely with Illinois Republican leaders, especially Minority Leader Robert Michel. After the Republicans took control of the House in 1994, Hastert was named Chief Deputy Whip, the highest appointed position in the House Republican caucus. In this position, he was chief vote-counter for then-Majority Whip Tom DeLay.
Speaker of the House
Election as Speaker
In the aftermath of the 1998 midterm elections, House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia stood down for the Speakership and declined to take his seat for an 11th term. The initial Republican prospect for Gingrich's replacement was Bob Livingston of Louisiana, the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, who was unanimously chosen as the Republican candidate for Speaker—and de facto Speaker-elect. However, soon thereafter, Hustler magazine detailed sexual affairs Livingston had in the past while seemingly hypocritically attacking President Bill Clinton for the Monica Lewinsky scandal; Livingston announced he wouldn't seek the Speakership and resigned from Congress, calling on Clinton to follow his lead and resign as well.
With Livingston's departure, the leading candidates for Speaker appeared to be DeLay and House Majority Leader Dick Armey, both of Texas. However, Armey had just fended off a bruising challenge to his majority leader's post from Steve Largent of Oklahoma.
This seemed to open the door for DeLay. However, DeLay was a controversial figure and felt that he would be "too nuclear" to lead a closely divided House. The Republican caucus then turned to Hastert as a compromise candidate. He had very good relationships with moderate and conservative Republicans, as well as Democrats. Hastert was then unanimously elected as the Republican candidate for Speaker, all but assuring his formal election as Speaker on January 6, 1999.
Tenure as speaker
In accepting the position, Hastert broke with tradition by delivering his acceptance speech from the floor, and by allowing House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt of Missouri to preside briefly. Hastert pledged to work for bipartisanship, saying: "Solutions to problems cannot be found in a pool of bitterness. They can be found in an environment in which we trust one another's word; where we generate heat and passion, but where we recognize that each member is equally important to our overall mission of improving the life of the American people." In November 2004, however, Hastert instituted his "majority of the majority" policy, allowing the House to vote only on bills supported by the majority of its Republican members. His policy agenda focused on taxes, education, Social Security, Medicare, and national defense.
Although by tradition, Hastert was the leader of the House Republicans, he adopted a much lower profile in the media than conventional wisdom would suggest for a Speaker. This led to accusations that he was only a figurehead for DeLay. Still, in the months after the September 11 attacks, he met regularly with President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, the two Senate leaders and the House minority leader to shape the national response.
As Speaker, Hastert traditionally did not serve on any committee. He usually did not participate in debate (though he had the right to do so) and almost never voted on the floor.
Hastert has been a prominent advocate of the FairTax proposal to replace the income tax with a national sales tax. He has been a strong supporter of all of the Bush administration's foreign and domestic policies.
On October 27, 2005, Hastert became the first Speaker of the House to author a blog on his website called, the "Speaker's Journal." In his first post, he wrote, "This is Denny Hastert and welcome to my blog. This is new to me. I can’t say I’m much of a techie. I guess you could say my office is teaching the old guy new tricks. But I’m excited. This is the future. And it is a new way for us to get our message out."
On June 1, 2006, Hastert became the longest-serving Republican Speaker of the House in history, surpassing the record previously held by fellow Illinoisan Joe Cannon, who held the post from November 1903 to March 1911.
Controversy as Speaker
A September 2005 article in Vanity Fair magazine revealed that during her work, former FBI translator Sibel Edmonds had heard Turkish wiretap targets boast of covert relations with Hastert. The article states, "the targets reportedly discussed giving Hastert tens of thousands of dollars in surreptitious payments in exchange for political favors and information." A spokesman for Hastert later denied the claims, relating them to the Jennifer Aniston-Brad Pitt breakup.
In 2009, conservative journalist and critic John Fund wrote that, "Although former House majority leader Tom DeLay is often blamed for encouraging GOP members to become addicted to pork-barrel earmarks, Hastert was fully supportive of this approach. After all, such an approach had been part of Republican success in Illinois. For 40 years, William Cellini, a major Republican lobbyist and power broker, has dominated Illinois road construction by cutting deals with both parties. ... Sen. Fitzgerald also labeled an Illinois congressional delegation 'wish list' of $600 million in projects being submitted to President Bush as a 'mega-hog letter.' ... In turn, Hastert called such criticism 'grandstanding.' ... Illinois Republican leaders made it clear that Fitzgerald would have trouble raising money for re-election and would have to spend several millions from his personal fortune. Sen. Fitzgerald decided to return to banking (which helped pave the way for the election of Barack Obama to the U.S. Senate)."
Hastert was reelected to his seat by a margin of 59.75 percent vs. 40.25 percent in the 2006 election, but that year the Republicans lost control, and soon after, Hastert announced he would not run for the post of Minority leader. He had long made it known that the 2007–09 term (110th Congress) would be his last. On June 1, 2007, State Senator Chris Lauzen declared his intention to seek the Republican nomination from Hastert's district. On July 2007, three-time statewide candidate Jim Oberweis also declared his intention to seek the Republican nomination from Hastert's district. The next month, Geneva mayor Kevin Burns became the third Republican candidate in the race to succeed Hastert.
On Aug. 10, 2007, Hastert's office sent letters to his supporters stating that he would announce whether he would be running for another term as congressman of the 14th district. The press conference was set to take place at the Kendall County Courthouse in Yorkville, Illinois on August 17 at 10 am According to sources, Hastert usually announced his intention to run by sending out a press release. On August 14, 2007, a blog reported that Hastert was planning to retire from politics at the end of his term.
On October 17, 2007, the political newspaper Roll Call announced that Hastert would resign from the House before the end of 2007. He gave a farewell speech on the House Floor on November 15, 2007, which was followed by remarks from Speaker Pelosi.
Finally, on November 26, 2007, Hastert submitted his resignation, effective at 11:59 pm that day, to Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, explaining that the timing allowed the governor to set the primary for the special election to fill out the remainder of his term on February 5, 2008, the same day as the primary for the November general election. Gov. Blagojevich, however, chose to name a special and separate election on Saturday, March 8, 2008 for this remainder of Hastert's term. This created great controversy as the expense to the county election services involved was construed by many as being of Hastert's making, when he had purposefully resigned with adequate time to have his position filled by special ballot on the day of the regular Illinois primary on February 5. Ultimately, the special election was held on March 8, 2008 and the Democratic candidate, Bill Foster, prevailed over the Republican candidate, Jim Oberweis.
In 2012, a Chicago Tribune investigation found that Hastert had used his taxpayer-funded office to conduct private business. Federal law allows former House speakers to maintain a government-financed office for up to five years, but they are not permitted to use the office for financial gain.
Hastert's oldest son, Joshua, is a lobbyist for the firm PodestaMattoon. He has lobbied for clients ranging from Amgen, a biotech company, to Lockheed Martin, a defense contractor, provoking criticism from Congress Watch: "There definitely should be restrictions [on family members registering as lobbyists] ... This is family members cashing in on connections ... [and it] is an ideal opportunity for special interest groups to exploit family relationships for personal gain." Joshua rejoined that he does not lobby House Republican leaders.
His son Ethan ran in 2010 as a Republican for his father's old seat, Illinois' 14th Congressional District, but in the February 2 primary was defeated by Illinois State Senator Randy Hultgren. In 2011 he won a seat on the village board of Elburn, IL.