Monday, June 08, 2015

Prairie Parkway:
Paving a path for Dems' drive into Denny-Land?

As the scandal embroiling fmr. U.S. House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert has unfolded, reporters have trekked out to Hastert's exurban home base, just beyond Chicago's fabled suburban "Collar Counties."

The predictable rash of stories have been filed, quoting slack-jawed locals in shock and disbelief over possible "prior misconduct" allegedly committed by their humble, hometown boy, Coach "Denny" Hastert.

Hastert's reputation for hometown humility was grounded as much in an apparently middle class lifestyle as it has been on his approachable, avuncular demeanor.  Despite his long tenure wielding the Speaker's gavel, Hastert never appeared to have forsaken Yorkville in Kendall Co. and "gone Washington." profiting from his post-Congress connections.

So reporters have gone digging into where the piles of cash in question came from. Turns out: it wasn't all from the predictable consulting and lobbying gigs.

A WaPo story found that "Hastert made a fortune in land deals" as corn fields were cleared for the strip malls and subdivision construction that have fueled the exurban growth that's exploded in Kendall Co., Hastert's home, and adjoining Kane Co. since Hastert's initial House election in 1986.

(Kane Co.'s schools are bursting with bored suburban teens, but the county seat's civic boosters insist that Aurora has much going on than just Wayne and Garth's basement public access cable TV "studio.")

One deal that raised eyebrows over ethics as far back as 2006 involved a federal earmark for the proposed Prairie Parkway that would cut through both Kendall and Kane cos. Hastert owned farmland nearby that he seems to have figured would reap him a real estate windfall from the growth parkway proponents promised.

Kendall's and Kane's voting patterns have followed a familiar shift: booming exurbanizing counties that see a marked shift from their reliably Republican rural days to a sharp increase in Democratic suburbanite support at the polls.

The "Collar Counties" were once so rock-ribbed Republican that local teenager Hillary Rodham Clinton was a "Goldwater Girl," even as LBJ was burying Barry nationwide. By 2008, the "Collar Counties" followed other affluent suburban counties and voted again for president for a guy named "Barry" - this time a Democrat of color, "Barry" Obama.

The shift in exurban Kendall and Kane wasn't as pronounced.  Republicans still dominate state legislative and county offices, and boost competitive statewide GOP contenders.

But neither county had voted for a Democrat for president for the entire 20th Century, not only snubbing "Landslide Lyndon" in 1964, but never going for FDR, not even in 1936.

But by 2008. suburbanites - and a likely "favorite son" factor - were overwhelming the small town GOP habits, and Obama carried both Kane and Kendall comfortably.  (Obama took a hit four years later, winning Kane and losing Kendall, but in both by narrow margins.)

Although America is littered with public works projects that failed to spur the growth promised,   parkway opponents dubbed it the "Sprawlway," expecting strip malls to strip the land of remaining agricultural areas.

So let's posit that the proposed Prairie Parkway would indeed follow the "if you build it, they will come" maxim that supporters of big ticket public works projects like this lean on to sell the scheme.

Then Hastert, the longest-serving Republican U.S. House Speaker - possibly desperate for hush money to cover-up some very un-"Values Voter"-approved behavior - was plotting a scheme to profit from a project that could help chip away more from the already-chiseled Republican voting bloc in his home base.

- John Vaught LaBeaume
Twitter @JVLaB

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