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Hastert to retire after 11 House terms

- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 18, 2007

Illinois Rep. J. Dennis Hastert, whose tenure as the longest-serving Republican House speaker ended earlier this year, yesterday said he will not seek a 12th term in office in 2008.

"I am immensely proud of all my accomplishments as a congressman and as speaker — but I did not do this alone," Mr. Hastert, 65, told supporters on the steps of the Kendall County Courthouse in his home district.

"This all happened because of the continued support I received from my constituents, my friends and my colleagues."

President Bush, who worked closely with Mr. Hastert when he was speaker, praised the accomplishments of the wrestling coach-turned-lawmaker who rose to the third-highest post in the nation.

"He led Congress to reduce taxes, improve education, strengthen Medicare, bolster our national defense and support our troops," said Mr. Bush.

Mr. Hastert joined a growing list of Republicans opting out of the first election cycle since Democrats won control of both chambers of Congress last year.

Four House Republicans have said they will not seek re-election at the end of the 110th Congress. Mississippi Rep. Charles W. "Chip" Pickering Jr. yesterday joined Mr. Hastert, Illinois Rep. Ray LaHood and Deborah Pryce of Ohio, the former Republican House Conference chairwoman.

Democrats said Mr. Hastert's decision will make it more difficult for Republicans to hold his seat in Illinois' 14th District, located west of Chicago.

"Any Republican running will have to answer for their party's failure to be nothing more than a rubber stamp for George Bush's endless war in Iraq and his irresponsible fiscal policies," Doug Thornell, spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee told the Associated Press.

Republican campaign officials declined to comment. Mr. Bush carried the 14th District in 2004 with 55 percent of the vote.

First elected in 1986, Mr. Hastert slowly climbed the ranks of the congressional hierarchy before ascending to House speaker during the Monica Lewinsky scandal. He replaced Republican Newt Gingrich of Georgia.

Although Mr. Hastert had an unusually long tenure as the highest-ranking House lawmaker, eight years, it was well known that he never had the same level of pure political ambition that has propelled others to such heights. In fact, lawmakers say that humility is a big part of why he was so popular within his own caucus.

"Denny may not have originally aspired to be speaker of the House, but it's a position he proved uniquely, perhaps singularly, equipped to handle," said House Republican Whip Roy Blunt of Missouri.

Mr. Blunt said the "passionate Midwesterner was able to bring together a chamber in desperate need of stability, and a country in desperate need of leadership."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, said Mr. Hastert's historic run in the speaker's chair is a testament to his leadership.

"Speaker Hastert has always placed a high value on public service, a calling he dedicated much of his life to as a teacher, coach and member of the House," she said.