State Journal-Register

Jan 21, 2001

Section: NEWS

Page: 1

    Illinois Republicans welcome Bush era


WASHINGTON - The cold drizzle didn't dampen Illinois Republicans' enthusiasm as they celebrated the inauguration of George W. Bush this weekend.

"For me, it means for the first time in six years, I'll be able to work with a Republican administration," said GOP Rep. Ray LaHood, who was first elected to the House in 1994.

"We can do better. We can be more forceful. We have more opportunities with our administration in office," said LaHood, who represents Peoria and part of Springfield.

LaHood was among 1,000 members of Congress and other dignitaries on the inaugural platform to witness Bush's swearing-in.

It was the first presidential inauguration attended by freshman Rep. Tim Johnson, R-Sidney, who described the ceremony as "awe-inspiring" and "overwhelming" despite the "physically miserable conditions."

Ponchos were handed out to the VIPs to help protect them from the cold wind and rain. But the ordinary folks out on the Capitol lawn were left to their own devices.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Yorkville, along with other congressional leaders, escorted Bush from the Capitol building onto the inaugural platform and had front-row seats for Bush's Inaugural Address.

Afterward, Hastert and his wife were among the elite group joining President Bush for lunch inside the Capitol, eating from dishes once used by Thomas Jefferson. Hastert presented the new president and vice president with flags hoisted over the Capitol at dawn.

Earlier Saturday, Sen. Peter Fitzgerald, R-Ill., shook hands with hundreds of Illinois constituents at an open house in his Senate office.

"I'm very excited as a Republican." said Fitzgerald. ".. . It will make my job a lot easier because when there are issues involving Illinois, it's easier to pick up the phone and call somebody that you know."

He was referring to former senators, John Ashcroft and Spencer Abraham, who are Bush's nominees for attorney general and energy secretary.

Rep. John Shimkus, a Republican who also represents part of Springfield, said he also has high expectations for the Bush administration.

"I think he's going to bring pragmatism back to federal policy and hopefully a conservative approach to solving our nation's problems," Shimkus said.

The inaugural ceremony and parade on Saturday were the culmination of three days of festivities for Illinois lawmakers, some more partisan than others.

On Thursday, Rep. Phil Crane, R-Wauconda, entertained at a mock funeral for Clinton hosted by the conservative Media Research Center. Crane joked that Clinton's epitaph from Illinois would be: "We gave him Hillary."

About 200 Illinois Republicans gathered for a lunch Friday hosted by Gov. Ryan.

"It's been a real drought for us over the last eight years," said former House Minority Leader Bob Michel of Peoria, who appeared jubilant.

On Friday night, more than 3,000 celebrants donned formal attire for the bipartisan Illinois Inaugural Gala, partially funded by corporate sponsors.

While the weekend was for celebrating, LaHood and other GOP lawmakers are looking with anticipation to the work ahead.

LaHood said he and other House members have been invited to join President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney on Tuesday for a "free-flowing exchange of ideas."

But for some there was a more immediate need.

"I'm looking forward to going home to bed," admitted Fitzgerald, who spent the past week dashing between confirmation hearings and inaugural receptions. "I'm running on very little sleep at this point."