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For the Record: Hastert may find himself president

by Peter Kostes

Ever since grade school, when most of my classmates loathed history class, I’ve had a fascination for the historical.

It’s the one subject I always received good grades in, including straight A’s in college. In fact, I majored in journalism/English and earned a minor in history.

Studying the behind-the-scenes drama of history is particularly interesting, including the cast of characters involved in shaping specific historical events. Often, obscure figures are called – either by their own volition or a quirk of fate – into the national or world stage. Each generation seems to have its own such characters.

Depending on the outcome of our nation’s contested presidential election, Dennis Hastert, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, represents one of those relatively unknown people who, under what would have to be an extraordinary set of circumstances, could soon find himself in unlikely surroundings.

While reading a news story about Monday’s Supreme Court hearing, a secondary story detailed a flow chart involving the possible sequence of events related to the scheduled Jan. 20 swearing in of a new president in Washington, D.C.

The final scenario noted if no one is officially declared a winner by then, the Speaker of the House would temporarily take office. Perhaps Hastert is the next Gerald Ford, someone who ascended to the country’s top political post without being elected either vice president or president.

(I’ve got a fond spot in my heart for Ford. Jerry is the only president I ever met in person – and the only one to share cake with me on his birthday. You’ll have to ask me another time about that.)

Granted, Hastert isn’t quite an “unknown.” Still, it’s a bit mind-boggling Hastert’s name comes up in news stories about the presidency and the line of succession. Even more so when the story is about an election, not what happens if a president becomes ill or is incapacitated because some screwball points a gun and starts firing.

A quick search on the Internet brought me to several sites, including “www.speaker.gov” and another political forum called “Rateitall, The Opinion Network.” The speaker’s official website offers glowing details of the former member of the Illinois General Assembly and his many accomplishments. “Denny,” as his site calls him, taught government and history for 16 years at Yorkville High School in northern Illinois and was elected to the House of Representatives in 1986. He has steadily worked his way through the ranks of committees and subcommittees to his present rank.

Rateitall, which features opinions from anonymous Internet users, is a little less formal in providing information.

Hastert’s Web site describes him as a “point person” and “champion” of important legislation, one who “led a nationwide fight” to repeal unfair laws for seniors along with his role as a “leader in cleaning up the environment.” During his tenure in the general assembly, he “spearheaded” legislation on child abuse prevention, property tax reform, education excellence and economic development.

No doubt he loves his mom and eats apple pie.

Some samplings from The Opinion Network include:

– “A wrestling coach caught in the headlights. A party hack.”

– “Ineffective as speaker, but not as obscenely dogmatic as most Republicans. History will forget him.”

– “All of the communists bashing our Speaker of the House need to take a second look at him. He is great at making coalitions. He can work across party lines, although I agree with some of the assessments that he will not be remembered very much, unlike his predecessor, the great Newt … Once Bush becomes president, Denny Hastert will become a key player in this country.”

– “It’s Hastert, no?”

Depending on a dimpled chad here, a hanging chad there, or a delayed ruling or two from a Supreme Court here (Florida) or a Supreme Court there (Washington), come Jan. 20 we all may be repeating the last refrain: “It’s Hastert, no?”

(Peter Kostes is publisher of The Record-Courier.)