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Politician & Activist

Dennis Hastert

Dennis Hastert is an American former politician who represented Illinois’s 14th congressional district from 1987 to 2007.

He served as the 51st Speaker of the United States House of Representatives from 1999 to 2007, the longest-serving Republican Speaker of the House in history.

After being convicted of financial crimes related to repeated incidents of child molestation, he became the highest-ranking elected official in U.S. history to have served a prison sentence.

  • Full name: John Dennis Hastert
  • Profession: American politician
  • Former Speaker of the United States House of Representatives
  • Born: 2 January 1942 (age 78 years), Aurora, Illinois, United States
  • Spouse: Jean Kahl (m. 1973)
  • Party: Republican Party
  • Books: Speaker
  • Children: Joshua Hastert, Ethan Hastert
  • Previous offices: Representative, IL 14th District (1987–2007)

About Dennis Hastert

Hastert was born on 2 January 1942, in Aurora, Illinois, the eldest of three sons of Naomi (née Nussle) and Jack Hastert. Hastert is of Luxembourgish and Norwegian descent on his father’s side, and of German descent on his mother’s.

Hastert grew up in a rural Illinois farming community. His middle-class family owned a farm supply business and a family farm; Hastert bagged and hauled feed and performed farm chores.

As a young man, Hastert also worked shifts in the family’s Plainfield restaurant, The Clock Tower, where he was a fry cook.

Hastert became a born-again Christian as a teenager, during his sophomore year of high school. Hastert attended Oswego High School, where he was a star wrestler and football player.

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Hastert briefly attended North Central College, but later transferred to Wheaton College, a Christian liberal arts college.

Jim Parnalee, Hastert’s roommate at North Central who transferred with him to Wheaton, was a Marine Corps Reserve member who in 1965 became the school’s first student to be killed in Vietnam. Hastert continued to visit Parnalee’s family each year in Michigan.

Because of a wrestling injury, Hastert never served in the military. In 1964, Hastert graduated from Wheaton with a B.A. in economics.

In 1967, he received his M.S. in philosophy of education from Northern Illinois University (NIU). In his first year of graduate school, Hastert spent three months in Japan as part of the People to People Student Ambassador Program.

One of Hastert’s fellow group members was Tony Podesta (then the president of the Young Democrats at University of Illinois at Chicago Circle).

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Hastert was employed by Yorkville Community Unit School District 115 for 16 years, from 1965 to 1981. Hastert began working there, at age 23, while still attending NIU.

Throughout that time, Hastert worked as a teacher at Yorkville High School (teaching government, history, economics, and sociology), where he also served as a football and wrestling coach.

Hastert led the school’s wrestling team to the 1976 state title and was later named Illinois Coach of the Year.

According to federal prosecutors, during the time that he coached wrestling, Hastert sexually abused at least four of his students.

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Hastert was a Boy Scout volunteer with Explorer Post 540 of Yorkville for 17 years, during his time as a schoolteacher and coach.

Hastert reportedly travelled with the Explorers on trips to the Grand Canyon, the Bahamas, Minnesota, and the Green River in Utah.

In 1973, Hastert married a fellow teacher at the high school, Jean Kahl, with whom he had two sons.

Career

From 1965 to 1981, Hastert was a high school teacher and coach at Yorkville High School in Yorkville, Illinois.

He lost a 1980 bid for the Illinois House of Representatives, but ran again and won a seat in 1981. He was first elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1986, and was re-elected every two years until he retired in 2007.

Hastert rose through the Republican ranks in the House, becoming chief deputy whip in 1995 and Speaker in 1999.

As Speaker of the House, Hastert supported the George W. Bush administration’s foreign and domestic policies.

After Democrats took control of the House in 2007 following the 2006 elections, Hastert declined to seek the position of minority leader, resigned his House seat, and became a lobbyist at the firm of Dickstein Shapiro.

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On May 28, 2015, Hastert was indicted on federal charges of structuring bank withdrawals to evade bank reporting requirements and making false statements to federal investigators.

Federal prosecutors said that the funds withdrawn by Hastert were used as hush money to conceal past sexual misconduct by Hastert.

In October 2015, Hastert entered into a plea agreement with prosecutors. Under the agreement, Hastert pleaded guilty to the structuring charge (a felony); the charge of making false statements was dropped.

In court submissions filed in April 2016, federal prosecutors alleged that Hastert had molested at least four boys as young as 14 years of age during his time as a high school wrestling coach.

At a sentencing hearing, Hastert admitted that he had sexually abused boys whom he had coached.

Referring to Hastert as a “serial child molester”, a federal judge imposed a sentence of 15 months in prison, two years’ supervised release, and a $250,000 fine. Hastert was imprisoned in 2016 and was released 13 months later.