For nearly 21 years, Republican Dennis Hastert represented Illinois' 14th Congressional District, including eight years as speaker of the House.
His retirement in late 2007, however, came at a time when voters were beginning to turn away from Republican leadership and Democrats were poised for some big election wins in 2008.
Enter Democrat Bill Foster, who surprised many when he won a special election and then the general election to take over as congressman in the district, which includes Kane County and parts of DuPage County.
Times are different today. The GOP is hoping for a resurgence and is eyeing the 14th District seat as one of several in the nation it believes it can win back. But first, district Republicans must decide who is best to take on Foster in the November general election. Foster has no primary challenger.
We believe that person is state Sen. Randall M. "Randy" Hultgren of Winfield.
Hultgren, 43, has 10 years of experience in the state legislature, the last three as a state senator. He is running on a fiscal conservative platform that calls for "pro-growth" policies to encourage small businesses to create jobs. He says every federal department and agency can cut spending, some as much as 5 percent depending on the "mission of the agency."
In the state legislature, Hultgren points to legislation dealing with drunken driving and medical malpractice reforms as highlights. While Hultgren has been criticized by his opponent for voting for the state's $31 billion capital plan last year, we believe that demonstrates a willingness on his part to make the tough calls when he believes they're right for his district. We hope to see that kind of thought if he is elected to Congress.
His opponent, 31-year-old Ethan Hastert of Elburn, has little to no experience in the public sector, having served a short time as a special assistant in former Vice President Dick Cheney's office. While we think he could be a rising star in the Republican Party someday and make a thoughtful elected official, he needs to have more experience under his belt before going to Washington. As the son of the former speaker and congressman, he has name recognition. But he does not yet stand out on his own, despite his protestations that it's his name on the ballot not his father's.
Both candidates claim to be the conservative choice in this election. Indeed, Hastert brought in former GOP House Speaker Newt Gingrich to lead a rally. Hultgren, meanwhile, has received a bevy of endorsements from conservative groups, and his social views are much farther to the right than we would like.
But we like Hultgren's answers when we asked how he differs from the party line. He believes the GOP can do more to protect our environment, and he believes both the Democrats and Republicans are responsible for overspending in Congress and for what he termed a "culture of corruption."