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updated: 1/3/2011 5:50 AM

New suburban congressmen get to work

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  • Randy Hultgren

      Randy Hultgren

  • Robert Dold

      Robert Dold

  • Adam Kinzinger

      Adam Kinzinger

  • Joe Walsh

      Joe Walsh

 
By Kerry Lester

Suits pressed, briefcases in hand, four freshman lawmakers will arrive for their first day on the job at 2 E. Capitol St. in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday.

The four Illinois lawmakers will together represent the largest influx of suburban Republicans to the House of Representatives in nearly two decades.

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While new Congressmen Joe Walsh, Robert Dold, Randy Hultgren and Adam Kinzinger will together join the chamber's new Republican majority, the four men's political leanings are as diverse as the suburbs they call home.

The nonprofit veteran, business owner, lawyer and Air Force pilot represent various points on the conservative spectrum -- from tea partyer to mainline Republican to social moderate.

Over the next two years, they'll distinguish themselves by the votes they cast, the committees they join, the campaign promises they keep -- and perhaps break -- and the alliances they forge.

Here's what to watch for. Meet the "new class."

Joe Walsh: 8th District

Vitals: North Shore native, McHenry resident, 49-year-old father of five. Divorced, and since remarried. Worked in the nonprofit sector and taught history at Oakton Community College before joining a Chicago investment group.

Background: Walsh's 2010 campaign as a tea party candidate represents a significant departure from his past platforms. In 1996, campaigning against 9th District Democratic Rep. Sidney Yates, Walsh billed himself as a social liberal who supported abortion rights and gun control. Now, he advocates for banning abortion in all cases and supports concealed carry laws. Walsh also supports Arizona's controversial immigration law and a constitutional ban on same sex marriage.

Walsh campaigned on a platform of fiscal conservatism. At the same time, he defended his own financial troubles as "a few isolated dings," not a worrisome pattern. Walsh's Evanston condominium was foreclosed on last year, and court records show he had state and federal liens for failing to pay his income taxes in their entirety in the 1990s and taxes on an education trust fund in the 1980s.

After Walsh won a six-way primary in February, national Republicans made it clear they didn't believe he could defeat three-term Democratic incumbent Melissa Bean.

Yet that's just what he did, with the help of a strong grass-roots effort, defeating the Barrington Democrat by 291 votes. What his campaign lacked in money, it made up for in manpower.

Brings to the table: A strong grass-roots following, charisma, the enthusiastic backing of numerous suburban tea party groups. Walsh has several out-of-the-box ideas on cost-cutting in federal government, including eliminating the departments of education and energy, as well as the environmental protection agency. In late December, he announced he landed three committee assignments -- named to the Homeland Security, Small Business, and Oversight and Government Reform committees.

What to watch for: Will his leadership isolate him from others in the party or garner national attention?

Robert Dold: 10th District

Vitals: Kenilworth business owner, 41 years old. Married, three children.

Background: Growing up in Winnetka, graduating from New Trier High School, and now renting his parents' Kenilworth home, Dold has a deep understanding of the North suburban 10th Congressional District.

While he has no elected experience, Dold spent several years working in Washington, D.C. -- for Vice President Dan Quayle and the Bush-Quayle re-election campaign, then on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Named a Republican "young gun" -- one of the next generation of conservative leaders -- Dold has received considerable attention from party bigwigs.

In the race against Democrat Dan Seals for the 10th District seat this fall, he received the endorsement of former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

Brings to the table: A continuation, both in policy and approach, of the way his predecessor, five-term Republican Congressman Mark Steven Kirk of Highland Park, led the district.

Like Kirk, Dold portrays himself as a fiscal conservative and social moderate in the independent North suburban 10th District. Dold says he's focused on reviving the economy and tackling the spiraling national debt. He supports stem-cell research, limits on gun ownership, and abortion rights in some instances. Since Kirk moved to the Senate Nov. 29 to fill the remainder of President Barack Obama's expiring Senate term, Kirk and Dold have been working closely together, as Dold puts it "to make sure there is no hiccup in either the district or in the Washington, D.C., office."

What to watch for: How will Dold continue the 10th District's legacy of "thoughtful, independent leadership" demonstrated by both former Rep. John Porter and Kirk? Dold, who landed a plum assignment on the House Financial Services Committee, has promised he's willing to reach across the aisle, and work toward bipartisan solutions.

Randy Hultgren: 14th District

Vitals: Elected while serving as Illinois state senator, a St. Charles lawyer and investment adviser. Before that, Hultgren was a state representative from 1999-2007, and active in DuPage County politics. The married father of four from Winfield is 44 years old.

Brings to the table: As a Milton Township precinct committeeman, DuPage County Board member, lawmaker and now a congressman, Hultgren has followed Wheaton Republican Peter Roskam into just about every level of politics he's ever achieved.

Elected to House Speaker Dennis Hastert's former seat, Hultgren is considered an up-and-coming "young gun" by Republicans. He has stressed that Congress has not reversed the recession as quickly as it should have and calls for Washington to operate in a more bipartisan way.

Hultgren, who has never served in an environment where Republicans have control of leadership, is less of a centrist than his predecessor, Democrat Bill Foster, who voted against every budget offered by his party and sided with the GOP on cap-and-trade limits. On social issues, Hultgren opposes stem-cell research and abortion rights.

Still, Hultgren brings political savvy and a strong conservative background to the district that re-elected Hastert for 10 terms.

What to watch for: With Roskam now elevated to Republican Deputy Whip, Hultgren, in turn, may find himself in the spotlight. The 14th District, which stretches west from Wheaton to the Iowa border, is one of the most diverse districts in the suburbs, with both rural and urban pockets. Where will Aurora and Elgin end up on Hultgren's political to-do list given their Democratic-leaning political voting history? Will he try to court their votes for re-election or will he rely on the district's conservative voters to back him?

Adam Kinzinger: 11th District

Vitals: At 32 years old, Kinzinger is the youngest person to hold office in the 11th District in more than 60 years, since 33-year-old Chester Chesney was elected in 1948.

Breaking age records and making headlines is nothing new for the Manteno resident and Air Force pilot.

As a sophomore at Illinois State University, Kinzinger was elected to the McLean County Board, beating out a much older, experienced candidate. This fall, he leapfrogged from that position to defeat Democratic incumbent Deborah Halvorson 57 percent to 43 percent in the South suburban swing district, which includes a portion of Will County on the north, that supported Obama and Halvorson by strong margins in 2008.

Outside of politics, Kinzinger was hailed as a hero in 2007 for rescuing a young mother who had been stabbed in downtown Milwaukee.

Brings to the table: Like Dold and Hultgren, Kinzinger is part of the party's "young guns" program. He's young, energetic, and backed by tea partyers, even getting a nod from former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin this fall.

Kinzinger, recently named to the Energy and Commerce committee (his district has three nuclear power plants), made energy a focal point in his campaign, pitching a plan for advancing nuclear production at home and focusing on energy independence.

He also has pledged to reform Washington. Yet, shortly after his election, Kinzinger held a "debt retirement dinner" with lobbyists and corporate representatives.

What to watch for: One of just four newly elected lawmakers tapped to serve on the GOP's transition team, Kinzinger has the potential to be a rising star, helping guide his party in its new relationship with the growing tea party. Will he steer clear of corporate interests and hold true to his promise of reform?

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