WASHINGTON - Illinois will suffer a sharp drop
in political power in the Capitol in January
when Rep. Dennis Hastert ends his eight-year run
as speaker of the House, considered the second
most powerful political office in Washington.
"One sentence review: It's bad news for the
state of Illinois," Loyola University political
science professor Alan Gitelson, concluded.
"The obvious thing is less money and less
influence in Congress," said Mike McKeon, a
Joliet-based pollster for both parties.
Hastert, a Plano Republican, announced
Wednesday that he will not seek the post of
House minority leader in the next Congress,
ending his tenure in the Republican leadership.
The shift to the Democrats also will reduce
the influence of Rep. Ray LaHood, R-Peoria, on
the powerful House Appropriations Committee, and
it will deny Rep. Donald Manzullo, R-Egan,
chairmanship of the Small Business Committee.
Rep. Henry Hyde's retirement will end his
chairmanship of the House International
Relations Committee, a prestigious post with
little impact on the state.
On the other hand, a number of Illinois
Democrats will gain power in the House, and Sen.
Dick Durbin, the Senate’s No. 2 Democrat, could
be quite influential if his party wins the final
seat it needs to control that chamber. (The
Associated Press reported Wednesday night that
In a news conference in Illinois, Durbin
predicted that Democrats will force a new debate
on Iraq and other issues, including homeland
security, the minimum wage, energy and health
But no other Illinoisan can match the
economic benefit that Hastert could deliver to
The speaker does not serve on any committees
but can have great influence on what they do,
which can mean funding earmarks and special
legislative benefits for his home state.
Hastert’s support was crucial, for instance, in
securing federal funds for the Abraham Lincoln
Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield.
“He’s been in a position to help the state,”
said Mike Lawrence, director of the Paul Simon
Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois
University. “(Chicago) Mayor (Richard) Daley has
said that Speaker Hastert has been very helpful
on mass transit and infrastructure issues.”
Thanking his colleagues and constituents for
the honor and “great personal privilege” of
serving as speaker, Hastert said Wednesday that
the next Republican leader “will have the
responsibility to emphasize conservative values
and reform principles. I will not seek this
role, but will support our leader to the best of
my ability as I return to the full-time task of
representing the people of the 14th District of
With the retirement of ailing Rep. Lane
Evans, D-Rock Island, who was in line to chair
the Veterans Affairs Committee, Rep. Jerry
Costello of Belleville will be the
longest-serving Illinois Democrat in the House.
He is likely to chair a subcommittee on either
the Transportation and Infrastructure or the
Science Committee. Rep. Luis Gutierrez could
chair a subcommittee on the Financial Services
or Veterans Affairs panels, and Rep. Danny Davis
might lead a subcommittee on the Government
Reform panel. Both are from Chicago.
Unless a more senior Democrat makes a move to
Appropriations, Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. will be
Illinois’ majority party member on the money
committee. The wild card is Rep. Rahm Emanuel,
who although very junior in House service could
become a major player because of his role in
engineering his party’s victories as chairman of
the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
“If there is a life for the (Illinois)
Democrats, it’s in terms of Emanuel,” Gitelson
said. “He’s done an incredible job raising
(campaign) money and distributing it around the
In Washington, Emanuel has been mentioned as
a likely candidate for majority whip, the No. 3
leadership position in the House behind the
speaker and the majority leader.
Appearing on TV networks early Wednesday,
Emanuel said he had not decided whether he would
seek a leadership post, stay in the campaign job
or just be a rank-and-file member.
Gitelson and others suggested that he would
be an influential player regardless of what he
In the Senate, Durbin has gained similar
credit for an aggressive role in carrying the
Democrats’ message in confrontations with the
Bush administration and the Senate Republican
leadership from his position as minority whip.
Durbin said Hastert “did a lot of very
positive things for our state” and brought home
significant highway funds. But he suggested that
Illinois would retain some influence through
“Consider for a moment when Rahm Emanuel
calls Speaker (Nancy) Pelosi to talk about
issues from Illinois. You think she’ll take the
call? I think she’ll gladly take the call, and I
think that’s going to be our entree for activity
in the House,” the senator said.
And then there is Sen. Barack Obama, a rising
political star de spite his lack of
congressional seniority, even before he
announced he is considering a presidential run.
Although Gitelson noted that Obama’s star
status would not be much help in the
seniority-conscious Senate, Lawrence said the
first-termer “is almost bigger than the
“He’s been out picking up IOUs from his
fellow Democrats” by campaigning for threatened
incumbents and challengers,” Gitelson said.
“He’ll be in a good position to cash in on those
IOUs. ... He has a reach that goes far beyond