Fitzgerald is independently
wealthy and came into politics from outside of the party
organization — spending $14.6 million to win his
1998 primary and then defeat Democratic Sen. Carol Moseley
In Washington, his term was characterized
by a series of spats with other Illinois Republicans.
Although Fitzgerald sometimes was able to connect with
voters through his independent stands, he soon found
himself facing a tough re-election without many allies.
Fitzgerald once filibustered a spending
bill because it contained a provision to fund construction
of the Lincoln Library in Illinois. He said the $50
million appropriation, backed by Speaker J. Dennis Hastert
(R-Ill.), would be used by then-Gov. George Ryan (R)
to aid political cronies. LaHood last week called Fitzgerald’s
conduct on the matter unforgivable.
“When you fashion yourself as an
independent, you’re not a member of a party,”
said LaHood. “I think trashing the Speaker hurt
him very badly.”
Fitzgerald even took on another notable
maverick, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), on maintaining
flight restrictions at Chicago’s O’Hare
airport — irking other Republicans who wanted
to increase air service in the state.
LaHood, who is close to Hastert, said
that working with friends and allies is “how you
get anything done around here. Loners and independents
very seldom get anything done. Our system is working
within a party and across party lines in order to get
things done. Peter was never willing to do that.”
LaHood conceded that the public often
rewards politicians who buck the system. “But
when you do it on a consistent basis and trash the people
who get things done, you in effect become ineffective,”
Shimkus faulted Fitzgerald for his handling
of the appointment of federal marshals, saying Fitzgerald
essentially was promoting “discrimination against
good Republicans” by failing to put forward anyone
with party credentials.
Fitzgerald also angered Hastert by failing
to give him a say in the appointment of U.S. attorneys
— traditionally a senator’s prerogative
— and by not working together to secure funding
for projects for the state.
“One thing in politics is you can’t
win without your base,” said Shimkus. “You’ve
got to have a foundation, and your party is your foundation.”
There were some clear advantages for Fitzgerald’s
decision to distance himself from the state GOP, still
reeling from the scandals that led to Ryan’s defeat.
Like McCain, Fitzgerald took some high-profile
stands against what he considered wasteful spending
in a way that can appeal to voters.
Fitzgerald said he could have retained
his seat but wanted to spend the next year and a half
being “the best senator I can,” rather than
constantly campaigning. “It would require full-time
devotion as a candidate. I would not be a senator or
a father. I would only be a candidate,” he said.
It’s hard to imagine Fitzgerald’s
having any more freedom than he already enjoys as a
lame duck to choose his own political positions.
“I will continue to vote my conscience,”
he said. Fitzgerald reaffirmed his strong support for
the president’s dividend tax cut and other tax
policies last week.
His departure, coupled with Edgar’s
announcement, gives Hastert an opportunity to solidify
his position further as the kingmaker of Illinois politics.
“Hastert always was, has been and will be the
leader in our party,” said LaHood. “He has
no peer in our party when it comes to leadership.”
Fitzgerald disputed the notion that Hastert
was already running the show in Illinois Republican
politics. “Most people, really about half the
people, don’t even know who the Speaker is,”
he said. “He really isn’t a factor in terms
of public opinion in the state.”
“He was very cozy and clubby with
our former Gov. George Ryan,” Fitzgerald continued.
“That only helped me.”
Asked whether Hastert would steer the
succession of his Senate seat, Fitzgerald at first disagreed.
“If there’s a Republican senator, the Republican
senator would,” he said. But then Fitzgerald appeared
to reconsider. “I’m not a machine guy. Hastert’s
the machine guy, so I’ll leave the machine politics