Saturday, March 05, 2005


The Sun-Times reported on VA Secretary Jim Nicholson's first official visit to Illinois since taking the job nearly five weeks ago:
Appearing in Yorkville and at the Elgin VFW, Nicholson and his staff spoke with about 60 veterans Friday as he traveled with U.S. House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert in Hastert's district. VA officials and workers nearly outnumbered the veterans, who were handpicked by their organizations to meet with Hastert and Nicholson. A few uninvited veterans showed up at the Yorkville American Legion and were allowed to sit in the back as long as they didn't ask any questions, they said.
That's right Illinois vets, just smile for the cameras and keep your damn mouths shut.

But what about Barack Obama and Dick Durbin, the men who invited Nicholson to Chicago -- where the majority of the state's nearly 1 million veterans live -- before he took office? What about the Democratic Senators who have been pursuing equity for Illinois vets since a Sun-Times series three months ago revealed that Illinois vets have received nearly the lowest disability pay in the country?

They were shut out of Hastert's carefully choreographed meetings with Nicholson.
"We are disappointed that these brave veterans are still waiting for the answers they deserve and that Secretary Nicholson will not have an opportunity to speak with more of the veterans who are hurting all across Illinois," the senators said in a statement.
But Hastert explained that he and Nicholson had no choice but to bypass Chicago:
"Those senators have to worry about the whole state," Hastert said. "I can only bring him into my district. That's where I can go."
Denny Hastert can only go to his district? Can that possibly be true?

Not according to the Sun-Times' Lynn Sweet. She reported:
During the 1999-2000 cycle — Hastert’s first term as speaker — he campaigned for 126 House candidates in 36 states, making, all told, 655 events and collecting about $20 million.
What about more recently? During the week of Oct. 25, 2004, Hastert visited at least eight states -- New York, Maine, Virginia, Missouri, Washington, Texas and North Dakota -- for 16 Republican candidates.

Need more proof? Let's check with the Illinois Republican Party who say:
Hastert maintains a travel schedule that keeps him on the go from breakfast fundraiser to evening reception and so far this year has taken him to 89 congressional districts, including constituencies as far away as Alaska and Maine.
It's been a while, but if I remember my high school geography correctly, Chicago is closer to Elgin than either New York or Texas. And I am almost certain that Chicago is closer to Yorkville than Alaska or Maine.

So Hastert can leave his district for something that really matters to him -- like stumping for Republican congressional candidates. It seems that Hastert can travel to the ends of the continent for a truly noble cause like GOP fundraising. It seems that Denny's always got a bag packed for the important stuff.

But Hastert just couldn't make the long voyage to Chicago for something as trivial as allowing Illinois veterans to ask Bush's VA Secretary why our vets are not receiving their disability pay.

I guess Illinois veterans and their families can thank Denny Hastert for one thing: He's made it crystal clear what he thinks of their concerns relative to his partisan politics.

So smile for the cameras Illinois veterans -- but keep your damn mouths shut.

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