Springfield State Journal Register

November 9, 2006

Illinois losing clout in D.C.

End of Hastert's speakership will be felt in state

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 it had.)

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 care.

But no other Illinoisan can match the economic benefit that Hastert could deliver to Illinois.

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 Illinois.”

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 country.”

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 does.

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 Emanuel.

“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 Congress.”

“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 the Senate.”