The indictment of former Speaker Dennis Hastert hit the news last week. He is accused of violation of federal banking laws and lying to the FBI about it. The news came as a big surprise to most people. Hastert had a reputation as a decent and down-to-earth person.
Hastert was a high school teacher and wrestling coach at Yorkville High School in Illinois from 1965-1981 before entering politics. In November 1986, he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from the 14th district in Illinois. That district is a far southwest Chicago suburb.
At the same time, I was a high school teacher in a district north of Yorkville. I was active with the Education Office of Fermi National Accelerator Lab in Batavia. One of my teacher colleagues in that office was also a teacher at Yorkville HS. Another colleague was a teacher and wrestling fan at a neighboring district. Both of them knew Dennis Hastert.
All three of us were physics teachers and active in the American Association of Physics Teachers organization. In the winter of 1988, the AAPT held their annual winter meeting in Crystal City, Virginia, across the river from Washington, DC. We went to the meeting to present educational materials from the Fermilab Education Office and to attend various workshops. We decided to contact Hastert to see if he could give us a tour of the Capitol. He had been elected barely a year earlier and was eager to show us around.
It was the most amazing tour you can imagine. This was before security was tightened after 9/11. We rode the underground United States Capitol subway system connecting the Capitol and the Senate and House office buildings. Senator and former astronaut John Glenn was in the next car to ours. Hastert showed us the cloakroom, off-limits to nearly everyone, bullet holes from the 1954 shooting on the floor of the House chamber, tunnels and secret passage short-cuts, and many other unique places. Hastert was happy to see us and treated us royally.
He went on to be Speaker of the House from January 6, 1999 – January 3, 2007. I didn’t agree with him politically. But, I still held him in regard for the way he treated us on our visit. As a fellow teacher, I felt a kinship with him.
The part of his indictment connected to his alleged sexual behavior with a high school aged student troubles me deeply. It contradicts the things I assumed about him as a positive influence for young people. It goes against all of the beliefs and standards I hold dear. What a surprising and disturbing story.