More than 300 supporters of U.S. Rep. Charlie Norwood gathered for breakfast at the Radisson Riverfront Hotel Augusta on Friday and got a taste of the political workings on Capitol Hill from Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert.
Mr. Hastert, R-Ill., was in town to drum up support for the Republican Party and money for Mr. Norwood's re-election campaign.
The former high school history teacher told the local faction of the GOP about educational reforms, efforts to save Social Security, the success of balancing the budget and the need to pay down the national debt.
Mr. Hastert, 57, also talked about how he wound up as speaker.
It was Dec. 19, 1998, and the House of Representatives was preparing to vote on the impeachment articles against President Clinton when U.S. Rep. Bob Livingston, the man who was to succeed Georgia's Newt Gingrich as Speaker of the House, made his historic announcement.
Mr. Livingston called for the president's resignation and -- almost in the same sentence -- announced his own resignation.
"You could hear a pin drop,"said Mr. Hastert, who was elected to Congress in 1986. "None of us knew that would happen."
Within 20 minutes of Mr. Livingston's announcement, Mr. Hastert was told he would likely be elected to succeed Mr. Livingston as Speaker of the House.
"The first thing I did was call my wife, the real speaker of our house, and I told her ... there was silence on the other end of the phone. ... She said, `You do what you think is right."'
On Jan. 2, 1999, Mr. Hastert was sworn in as speaker.
Mr. Norwood joked that part of the reason for Mr. Hastert's success is that Mr. Hastert is a former wrestler.
"I always wondered how he and I would do in a heavyweight bout," Mr. Norwood quipped.
Mr. Norwood described Mr. Hastert as "fair and honest."
"I think he was elected to that position because of the tremendous respect he has held from both parties," Mr. Norwood said.
He said his goal was to do three or four things really well rather than 20 mediocre things.
So Mr. Hastert -- along with Mr. Norwood and others -- began to work on some of the bigger issues facing America: eliminating the national debt, improving education, increasing defense funding, protecting Social Security and working for health care reform.
Mr. Hastert talked about watching Republicans -- and some Democrats -- working hard to pass such legislation as the Patients Protection Act only to see President Clinton take credit for the bill.
He talked of future success, particularly if the Republicans regain the White House this fall and continue to control the House of Representatives.
Mr. Norwood, who was first elected to Congress in 1995, is seeking his third term in office.
Reach Justin Martin at (706) 823-3552.
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