U.S. Rep. Dennis Hastert will retire effective at 10:59 p.m. tonight so the special election to fulfill the remainder of his term can be held the same day as the Feb. 5 primary, according to a statement from his office.
The Plano Republican, who served as House Speaker longer than anyone else in his party, submitted his resignation letter to Gov. Rod Blagojevich and U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi this afternoon. Hastert gave his final speech from the House floor podium Nov. 15.
"Serving for almost 21 years as a representative of the people of the 14th District of Illinois has been a high honor for me," he said in a statement. "I am grateful to them and proud of all that we have been able to accomplish together. But the time has now come to spend more time with my family which sacrificed for so long to enable me to serve."
His resignation triggers special elections to fulfill the remainder of his term, which ends in January 2009. Blagojevich has five days to schedule the special election, which must take place within 115 days of the official resignation date.
Resigning today gives Blagojevich enough time to schedule the special election on the same date as the state's regularly scheduled primary, which "will minimize inconvenience to the voters and expense to the counties in the 14th Congressional District," Hastert wrote to Blagojevich.
In theory, a candidate could win the special election to fill in for Hastert but lose the regular primary for a full term, or vice versa.
The special elections could cost taxpayers in the 14th Congressional District more than $1 million, according to election officials from Kane and other counties in the district.
Four Republicans - Chris Lauzen, Jim Oberweis, Kevin Burns and Michael Dilger - and four Democrats - Bill Foster, John Laesch, Jotham Stein and Joe Serra - are vying to take his place.
Congress is in the middle of a two-week holiday recess. The 110th Congress ends in January 2009.
Hastert, a 65-year-old Fox Valley native, became Speaker in January 1999. He was elected to an 11th term a year ago but lost the post of Speaker when Democrats regained control of the House.