The Hastert (non-)legacy

posted at 1:18 pm on March 9, 2008 by Ed Morrissey

The retirement of Dennis Hastert, the former Speaker of the House, has led to the loss of his seat from the Republican ranks. In a low-turnout special election, political newcomer Bill Foster beat Jim Oberweis to win the seat for the Democrats. The loss leaves the GOP looking even more impotent in Illinois than ever before (via Memeorandum):

In a stunning upset Saturday that could be a sign of trouble for Republicans this fall, a little-known Democratic physicist won the special election for a far west suburban congressional seat long held by former GOP House Speaker Dennis Hastert.

Rookie candidate Bill Foster scored a comfortable victory over Republican dairyman Jim Oberweis, who lost his fourth high-profile contest in six years, after an expensive and highly negative contest.

Foster had 53 percent to Oberweis’ 47 percent with all of the unofficial vote counted.

Only 20% of the electorate went to the polls in this special election, which marred Governor Rod Blagojevich’s efforts to generate more enthusiasm for voter participation. That wound up being the only failure for the Democrats in replacing Hastert. The Republicans tried running a three-time flop in the election rather than looking for a fresh face, and at the moment appear to favor giving Oberweis a fifth shot at the brass drain.

What is going on in Illinois with the GOP? Barack Obama might not have had the standing to run for President this year if the Republicans in the state could have found a credible candidate to oppose him. Instead, they drafted Alan Keyes in a carpetbagging candidacy for the Senate in 2004, turning the race from tough to a laugh riot. Now they can’t find anyone to beat a chemistry teacher in a district that has been solidly Republican for decades.

Some of the blame has to fall on Hastert himself. His run as Speaker got marred by corruption and massive increases in pork-barrel politics, two themes not without their connections. He personally benefited from pork legislation that increased the value of land he owned as part of a trust. He also fought to protect William “Dollar Bill” Jefferson from an FBI investigation into bribery and corruption rather than take a more reformist stance that demanded transparency and clean government.

Hastert’s actions created the legacy we see now: no legacy at all. Although he doesn’t deserve the blame for the collapse of the GOP in Illinois, he deserves at least some of the blame for leaving his constituency in a mood for this kind of change. It’s a lesson that the current House GOP caucus needs to learn, and learn quickly, if it wants to avoid losing even more ground in November.


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