House Speaker gives talk on political ethics
By TIM LOGAN
Our elected leaders should avoid partisanship and act upon their values, not political expediency, when making decisions affecting public life, said Dennis Hastert, speaker of the House of Representatives, Saturday.
Hastert, a Republican from Illinois, spoke to a standing-room-only crowd in the Hesburgh Center Auditorium about the importance of maintaining a core philosophy of beliefs in leadership.
"Our mission is made easier when the politics of division takes a back seat to the progress of unity," Hastert said. "Unfortunately, some of the most important ideas get lost in a thicket of partisanship."
Hastert went on to list some of his party's primary objectives, including using a portion of the federal budget surplus to cut taxes, and putting the rest towards paying down the national debt. He said that if the debt remains the same, one college-age American will spend approximately $190,000 during his lifetime just to pay off the debt's interest.
Hastert, a former high school teacher, also discussed the importance of quality education. He said he encourages greater partnership between public and private schools in this country and, at the same time, respects the many different circumstances that affect schools across the nation.
"We should encourage expansion of educational opportunities for all children, whether they be in a public school or a private or parochial school," he said. "No child should be denied quality education just because his or her parents are saddled with financial restraints."
In both his speech and the subsequent question-and-answer session, Hastert touched on a number of issues of importance to the Catholic University audience.
He said he hopes President Bill Clinton will not veto the partial-birth abortion ban which the Senate passed last week, but he acknowledged that that may not be likely. The Speaker also said he hopes to prevent foreign aid from going to groups that would encourage their governments to enact legislation that strengthens abortion rights.
Hastert stopped short of endorsing a national death penalty moratorium, such as that recently enacted by Illinois Governor George Ryan, but he did say there should be some guarantees to DNA testing and a quality defense in capital punishment cases.
Hastert also addressed the controversial selection of the House chaplain, saying he hoped the appointment of Father Daniel Coughlin to the position would "help us heal" wounds brought on by accusations of anti-Catholicism. Presbyterian Reverend Charles Wright was initially selected over a Catholic priest who had more support among the bipartisan nominating committee.
While Hastert said the committee was intended only to select three nominees, the House Republican leadership was charged with anti-Catholicism. After this controversy ensued, Hastert selected Coughlin on the advice of Chicago archbishop Cardinal Francis George. The Speaker said his critics on this matter were engaging in a dangerous game.
"Those who try to use religion as a means for political maneuvering can unleash disastrous consequences, like a child playing with matches," he said.
Hastert was elected Speaker of the House in January 1999, shortly after Clinton's impeachment. He represents Illinois' 14th Congressional district, in Chicago's western suburbs. He has been a member of the House since 1986 and spent 16 years teaching government and history at an Illinois high school.
His speech on Saturday was a part of the Hanley Lectures on Values and Public Policy, which are delivered both on campus and at the University's study program in Washington, D.C.
All News Stories for Monday, April 10, 2000