J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.)
Long before anyone referred to Dennis Hastert as "Mr. Speaker"
he was known as "Coach." The Illinois government teacher
led his Yorkville High Foxes wrestling team to the state championship
in 1976. The coach was himself an accomplished wrestler in high
school and college.
was born in Wheaton and grew up in Oswego, places his Web site
locates in the "cornfields of Illinois." "Denny"
grew up working for his father's feed supply business and serving
as a cook in a restaurant his parents owned.
skill on the mat helped take him to Wheaton College where he earned
a degree in economics in 1964. He earned a Master's degree in
education from Northern Illinois University in 1967. Hastert then
spent the next 16 years as a teacher and coach in Yorkville where
he met his wife, Jean, a fellow teacher.
1980, Hastert decided to take his grappling skills into the arena
of politics, where he began a tradition of being drafted to fill
vacant posts. He ran for and won a seat in the Illinois State
Assembly after the incumbent became ill and had to be replaced
on the ballot. In 1986, he ran for Illinois' 14th District U.S.
House seat after Rep. John Grotberg was diagnosed with cancer,
and party leaders again asked Hastert to fill a vacancy. Hastert
won the close election 52 percent to 48 percent.
In the House, Hastert built a low-key, but solidly conservative
record and a reputation as a likeable consensus builder among
his GOP colleagues. He served on the Commerce Committee and on
various subcommittees where he worked on energy, telecommunications
and national security legislation. He also became a leader on
health care issues, heading a task force that responded to then-First
Lady Hilary Rodham Clinton's health care proposal in 1993 and
helping craft the Republican version of a patient's bill of rights
in 1997. He has been a supporter of free trade and effective at
bringing home federal money to the 14th District.
1994, Hastert ran fellow Rep. Tom DeLay's campaign for GOP whip.
DeLay won and named Hastert his deputy. Four years later, though,
an unusual set of events would vault Hastert to the speakership.
Speaker Newt Gingrich announced his retirement in the wake of
GOP election losses, after which a general challenge to the Republican
leadership was launched. During the battle, newly elected Speaker-designate
Bob Livingston resigned over personal improprieties that were
brought to light during debate over President Clinton's impeachment.
Michael Barone, writing in the Almanac of American Politics described
loomed against everyone in the leadership, with the conspicuous
exception of DeLay. Many members urged Hastert to run against
Majority Leader Dick Armey. But Hastert had pledged to support
him; when he asked to be released from the pledge, Armey said
no; and so he stuck to it and didn't run for a position he probably
could have won. This behavior, unusual among Republican leaders
who had been targeting each other for more than a year, was recalled
on December 19, when just before the impeachment vote Speaker-designate
Bob Livingston announced his retirement too. Gingrich told Hastert,
'You are the only one in this conference who could pull this body
together. You are going to have to be the next speaker of the
House.' At 1 p.m. he announced; by the end of the day he had more
than 100 votes, and the speakership."
his first address as Speaker, Hastert broke with tradition and
spoke from the floor of the House and allowed Democratic leader
Richard Gephardt play a role in the day's events.
to problems cannot be found in a pool of bitterness," Hastert
said. "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."
words and manner were well received during amid the strife of
the impeachment proceedings.
Speaker, Hastert has presided over the reassignment of government
programs to the state level, has worked on Republican measures
aimed at protecting Social Security, supported moderate gun control
measures, allowed campaign finance bills to come to a floor vote,
and stayed neutral when the House debated a resolution on military
action in Kosovo.
leadership style has been called conciliatory, but he has at times
used his position to push through parts of his agenda, and has
exerted increased control during his tenure. He has even broken
with his former mentor and more conservative colleague DeLay on
a number of occasions.
Hastert and Tom DeLay have climbed the mountain together. And
when one has gotten above the other, they help him get up and
they have been extraordinarily successful because they work so
well together," Congressman Christopher Shays (R-Conn.) said
the Clinton administration, Hastert worked with the White House
and Democratic legislators on a number of bipartisan bills. After
the 2000 elections, Hastert proved adept at holding together the
narrow majority in the House and working with a fellow Republican
in the White House.
widened their majority in the House during the 2002 elections.
In January 2003, GOP Congressmen voted to abolish the four-term
limit they established for the speaker position when they took
power in 1995, clearing the way for Hastert, who is entering his
third term in the post, to serve for as long as he has his colleagues'
and his wife Jean are the parents of two grown sons, Joshua and
Ethan. In his spare time, Hastert enjoys attending wrestling meets,
fishing, and carving and painting duck decoys.
-- By Jason Manning, Online NewsHour