Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Roskam: the right successor to Hyde

Roskam: the right successor to Hyde

May 7, 2005



'Just call me reasonable Roskam,'' he says. And several Democratic lawmakers agree that's exactly what state Sen. Peter Roskam (R-Wheaton) is. Also, social conservatives have tabbed him as their go-to guy. He's a perfect 10 on their issues. He's pro-life and supports gun owners' rights, opposes special privileges for gays, supports home schooling, opposes tax increases. Yet with folksiness and deft humor, Roskam has been careful to sandpaper away any rough edges so he can succeed the retiring and beloved U.S. Rep. Henry J. Hyde. As a young man. Roskam worked for Hyde and was an intern for the combative Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) long before DeLay's ethics woes.

After Washington, Roskam entered a lucrative law practice with former state Rep. Al Salvi, and like Salvi, he went to the Legislature. In 1998, liberal Republican Rep. Harris Fawell retired in the 13th District stronghold comprising the southern part of DuPage County, including fashionable Hinsdale. Roskam, then living in Winfield, moved to Naperville to run for the seat. His primary opponent, multimillionaire social liberal state Rep. Judy Biggert (whose husband is even richer) called him a carpet-bagger. A poster child for bland country club Republicanism, lawyer Biggert gave more than $400,000 to her campaign and got hefty contributions from Planned Parenthood and the Human Rights Campaign (for her support of gay rights bills).

But more significant than Biggert's personal wealth was her newfound support of term limits. She stunned her liberal friends by vowing to quit after six years, which drew great support from the libertarian right. This the highly principled Roskam couldn't match, believing that only voters should decide how long one serves in Congress.

Term limits pulled Biggert through the primary, 45 percent to 40 percent, and she swept the general election with 61 percent of the vote. (Oh yes, after she went to Congress, she renounced her term-limit pledge as impractical). Roskam ruefully says he learned something about political gamesmanship from that campaign, but he still won't budge on core convictions, a prime reason conservatives cling to him.

Now Roskam, who moved to Wheaton to run, is the odds-on favorite in Hyde's 6th Congressional District, which includes the DuPage suburbs surrounding O'Hare Airport. It's a tougher district than the 13th for Republicans. Hyde won in 2004 with only 55.8 percent of the vote, somewhat weak for an icon -- probably because of some independent voter discontent with his role in the impeachment of President Bill Clinton.

Roskam has covered his bases well with issue interest groups on the right, winning approval of them all, including Phyllis Schlafly's Eagle Forum. Still, he faces several opponents, including a former DuPage recorder of deeds, liberal J.P. Carney. Carney shouldn't be much of a threat, but the possible entry of pro-life moderate Sen. Carol Pankau of Bloomingdale could. Then there's conservative former state Rep. Tom Johnson of West Chicago, who has lots of personal money but doesn't spend it, often filing for races late and many dollars short. Democrats vying for the seat include arbitrator Peter O'Malley of Wheaton and Christine Cegelis of Rolling Meadows, a businesswoman who ran against Hyde in 2004.

Surprisingly, some Senate Democrats are willing to volunteer praise for Roskam's ability to work cooperatively, recognizing that he will use it in his campaign. Louis Viverito of Burbank says Roskam is ''a wonderful man who has grown in his job, is highly capable and an energetic debater''; Donald Harmon of Oak Park describes him as ''a noble adversary,'' and Jacqueline Collins of Chicago says he has ''good values'' and is an ''able debater who does his homework.''

If elected, Roskam would quickly become a key conservative leader and point man in the U.S. House. One primary opponent has snarled, ''Illinois doesn't need another Henry Hyde clone in the House.'' Big gaffe: Peter Roskam aims to be exactly that on social policy and foreign affairs -- besides taking on the old-fashioned issue of balanced budgeting that House Republicans sorely need. Sounds reasonable, doesn't it?

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