Roskam recalls salad days with president
Politically, Peter Roskam and Barack Obama couldn't be farther apart.
The conservative Wheaton congressman grew up in Republican DuPage County while the president is a Democrat from the ultraliberal enclave of Hyde Park on Chicago's South Side.
But they share common ground as state senators earning their stripes in the Illinois legislature and later moving on to Washington, Obama in 2004 and Roskam in 2006.
While on the Senate floor in Springfield as members of the judiciary committee, the two attorneys often sparred. Under Democratic leadership, Obama was in charge of key legal policies. Roskam was the Republican debate pointman.
"We had different philosophies," he said.
Roskam recalls exchanging words with Obama over the issue of universal health care, which Republicans opposed.
"At the time I would have described him as a rank-and-file Chicago senator with an academic perspective. Some of his training as a lawyer and his background teaching at the law school you could see elements of," Roskam said.
Obama served in the Senate from 1996 to 2004; Roskam from 2000 to 2006.
While in Springfield, Obama didn't cross party leaders such as the powerful former Senate President Emil Jones, Roskam recalled.
But he's encouraged his former colleague will reach out to the GOP from signals the president has sent regarding his economic stimulus package.
"Republicans I talk to are very interested in trying to work with him," Roskam said. "I'm encouraged that as part of his economic approach, he's not planning to raise taxes. That's a good beginning."
Of course as Illinoisans, the two also share the black cloud over the state from Gov. Rod Blagojevich's corruption arrest.
"The stain of Blagojevich is a problem that eclipses what people should be talking about," said Roskam, who acknowledged he's received more than his fair share of jokes and comments from fellow lawmakers.
There's also the question of whether Obama's influence will steer funding to Illinois for needed projects.
Certainly, having a president from Chicago will help, predicts Roskam, who is newly appointed to the powerful Ways and Means Committee.
"If there is discretion, discretion will be given to the state," he said, "(but) that doesn't mean manna from the heavens."
From their salad days in Springfield to Obama's position as leader of the free world, his old sparring partner faces a heavy burden, Roskam noted.
"He's dealing with high expectations created in the campaign," he said, adding that Obama's success depends entirely on "how he chooses to govern - the choice is his."
Asked if he'll ever pull a "when the president and I" memory of working with Obama out of his hat to impress colleagues, Roskam laughed.
"We'll see," he hedged.
Daily Herald Staff Writer John Patterson contributed to this report.