Does Peter Roskam's future include speaker's job?
Chief Deputy Whip Peter Roskam, center, poses a question during a Ways and Means Committee meeting.
Daily Herald file photo
Tuesday was a grim night for Illinois' Republican congressional delegation as three local GOP seats fell to the Democrats.
But in Wheaton, it was a different story.
"We picked the right party to go to," one jubilant man said as he left 6th District Congressman Peter Roskam's victory celebration.
Despite a gerrymandered district crafted to favor Democrat challenger Leslie Coolidge, Roskam sailed to victory with 59 percent of the vote.
It was the capper to an upwardly mobile two years: In November 2010, Roskam was appointed as GOP chief deputy whip, the No. 4 spot in the U.S. House of Representatives.
So — what's next for Roskam, a Wheaton attorney and former state senator who's unobtrusively built up a formidable political resume?
"The sky's the limit for Peter Roskam," said state Sen. Kirk Dillard, a Hinsdale Republican. "I believe that Congressman Roskam could be the speaker of the House some day — he has those kind of talents."
Conventional wisdom casts the chief deputy whip job as a launchpad for the high-profile House leader and speaker positions.
Roskam, 51, shrugged off questions about his future aspirations.
"So many people spend so much time scheming and angling and it's a complete waste of time," he said Wednesday. "I have found it's best to treat your colleagues with respect. You've got to earn the right to be heard."
Roskam cited his predecessor, Congressman and House Judiciary Chairman Henry Hyde, and Paul Ryan, the GOP vice presidential nominee and House Budget Committee chairman, as role models who grew into their leadership positions.
Ryan "just did his job," Roskam said. "He's someone in the House who worked diligently and put together a budget. He worked on it for years. He wasn't always saying, 'hey, look at me.'
"Henry Hyde served for 32 years and, over that period of time, he became a person who influenced the national debate. Those are attributes I want to model myself after," Roskam added.
Some think that Roskam could be a contender for chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, of which he is a member.
Roskam called Ways and Means, "the best committee in the House, it has broad jurisdiction over areas that really impact the country and our district — taxes, trade and health care."
As for presiding over the committee, Roskam said Ryan would be a strong contender if current Chairman Dave Camp moved on.
There was speculation Roskam could run for a statewide office. But others now think he is perfectly placed in the line of succession if there's a House power shift down the road — the consensus being that Speaker John Boehner, Leader Eric Cantor and Whip Kevin McCarthy aren't going away anytime soon.
Among House Republicans, Roskam is seen as a consensus builder, characterizing himself as "listener in chief." Armed with a considerable war chest, he also poured money into other congressional campaigns.
Despite these pluses, some political observers say the lost seats in Illinois could reflect on Roskam's political clout. Suburban Republicans Judy Biggert, Joe Walsh and Bob Dold all failed in their House re-election bids Tuesday.
But Dan Conston, a former top adviser to Roskam who now helps run the Congressional Leadership Fund, a SuperPAC tied to the House Republican leadership, doesn't think the losses are a factor.
"I think Congressman Roskam has proved time and time again to be hardworking, trustworthy and patient from his days in the statehouse to inside the U.S. Capitol," Conston said. "Those virtues will continue to serve him well in leadership."
Roskam said his focus now is the legislative agenda, not a personal agenda.
"The next two years will see a major push on tax reform. It's been building because there's such a level of dissatisfaction with the tax code."
But then you never know. Congressman Dennis Hastert's promotion from chief deputy whip to speaker came out of the blue.
"Sometimes, I think it comes upon people very unexpectedly," Roskam said.
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