There are two things Republican Speaker Dennis Hastert doesn't want voters to discuss before the election. One is how Republicans handled Mark Foley's behavior. The other is Prairie Parkway.
Prairie Parkway refers to the highway to be built along the I-88 and I-80 corridor in Plano, Illinois (Hastert's district). There was immense local opposition to the project, with citizens arguing that the proposed highway would contribute to sprawl and destroy valuable farmland.
Think Progress has an excellent timeline on the matter. In short, when members of Congress made their financial disclosures earlier this year, Speaker Hastert reported a whopping $1.5 million profit on a land deal (reports of the actual profit vary between $1.8 million to $2 million). The Sunlight Foundation started digging, and in a nutshell, here's what they found.
In 2002, Hastert was driving to a parade in Sycamore, Ill., when he saw a post-and-beam house he fell in love with, according to Dallas C. Ingemunson, a longtime friend and ally of Hastert's who made the land deals for the speaker. Hastert struck a deal with the owner on the spot, purchasing the house near Plano, Ill., and 195 acres for $2.1 million.The actual location of the property has been the subject of debate--some say it's about 5 miles away from the proposed Parkway, others say it's closer to 3. Either way, the fact remains that Hastert's land--or rather, Hastert himself---benefited greatly from the Prairie Parkway pork barrel appropriation.
In February 2004, Ingemunson, treasurer of Hastert's campaign committee and chairman of the Kendall County Republican Party, established Little Rock Trust #225 [Ed. note: Hastert's name was not on the public records relating to the land trust]. A week later, through the trust, Hastert and his business partners purchased a 69-acre parcel for $340,000, providing road access to part of Hastert's farm that had been landlocked. Hastert owned a quarter of that parcel.
In May 2005, Hastert transferred the 69 acres of previously hemmed-in land from his farm to the land trust. That summer, Hastert personally intervened during House and Senate negotiations over a huge transportation and infrastructure bill to secure two separate earmarks, $152 million to help build the Prairie Parkway through Kendall County and $55 million for an interchange 5 1/2 miles from his property. President Bush signed the bill into law on Aug. 10.
Then, on Dec. 7, Little Rock Trust #225 sold the Hastert parcels to a subsidiary of the Robert Arthur Land Co. for nearly $5 million. The deal netted Hastert a $2 million profit.
Indeed, it was just three months after the bill was passed that Hastert sold the property. Hastert maintains, of course, that the location of his property had nothing to do with his earmark efforts.
While all of this made headlines over the summer, I bring it up again now to highlight the fact that Speaker Hastert--the longest-serving Republican Speaker in American history--has a serious leadership problem. We've seen his lack of leadership on the Foley scandal. And we see it in the Prairie Parkway scandal, where again, Speaker Hastert demonstrates his preference for non-disclosure of material facts.
Hastert has perfected the art of sacrificing facts and honesty at the altar of power. So, as scared and trembling Republicans cling to him for their political lives, they best remember that the corpus they clutch close is weighed down by the taint of scandal after scandal.
Hastert isn't a leader. He's a suit full of lead. And the more Republicans cling to him, the faster they will sink in the flood of their own making.
Hat tip to Georgia10, Steve G has more. I wonder if Abramoff was the realtor...