One Year Ago, Peter Roskam Became Henry Hyde's Successor. but in Washington, He's Just a Freshman. One Step at a Time

Article excerpt

Byline: Marni Pyke

WASHINGTON, D.C. -It's 10 a.m., and inside the Beltway the talk is of Iran, Cuba and the mortgage financing debacle.

But freshman U.S. Rep. Peter Roskam is focusing on the emerald ash borer.

The Wheaton Republican stands on the historic House floor of the U.S. Capitol and addresses the nation.

"It's a nasty little bug," Roskam says. "It doesn't just kill a majority of ash trees, it kills them all."

He's got them in the palm of his hand, then in mid-speech, a warning bell rings.

Roskam takes it in stride.

"I'm just getting used to the time limit," he explains. "When they recognize you for one minute, they recognize you for one minute."

They probably wouldn't do that to Henry Hyde. But Roskam's the first to admit he's not reached the stature of his iconic predecessor.

"Nobody can replace Henry Hyde," he says.

For now, Roskam picks his moments.

"You have to earn the right to be heard."

Rough start

One year ago today, Roskam was elected to the 6th Congressional District after a bruising campaign.

His opponent, Democrat Tammy Duckworth, an Iraq war veteran and current state official, had the help of such powerbrokers as U.S. Rep. Rahm Emanuel of Chicago and U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin.

Roskam had the blessing of Hyde and a grassroots army of volunteers.

Both parties poured millions into the election, dispatched political stars to stump for the candidates, and launched attack ads.

In a year the Republicans lost the House and Senate, Roskam's rare GOP victory made him a standout.

But 15 minutes of fame will only take you so far when you're a freshman congressman in the minority.

What leads to a second term is never losing sight of the home front, Roskam believes.

And that's why he concentrated on the ash borer, a pest that's already been found in the collar counties, and one of myriad issues Roskam will consider this Oct. 24.

Day in the life

Roskam's morning started with a delegation from Famagusta, a town in Cyprus under Turkish control.

Mayor Alexis Galanos is doing the rounds of Congress seeking support for the rights of displaced Greek Cypriots.

In the next eight hours, Roskam will deal with Cyprus, invasive species, the mortgage crisis, national heritage areas, native Hawaiian rights, runaway children and a new challenge in the upcoming election.

"I find it invigorating when you move from one subject area to the other," he says. "You have to learn to multitask."

After his brief speech is done at 10:01 a.m., Roskam heads to the Rayburn Building for a hearing on reforming mortgage lending practices. It's his one committee, but a powerful one.

Inside, the avuncular Democrat Barney Frank presides; to his right is U.S. Rep. Judy Biggert, a Hinsdale Republican.

While Biggert's years on the hill have earned her the best seat in the house, Roskam sits two rows down, wearing a gray suit, pink shirt and blue tie.

Roskam isn't convinced of the merit of the bill, which profiles more consumer protection and regulation.

"The bill standards are very subjective. My fear is you could get a group of people unfairly denied credit," he says, before jogging off to a vote on native heritage areas.

The House floor is much smaller than it appears during the State of the Union address. Congressmen mill about politicking, joking and talking shop while Roskam's nemesis in the 2006 election, Emanuel, glides about purposefully.

Roskam leans back in a seat, chatting with John Shimkus, a downstate Republican. When the vote is called, he votes "yes" using a key card.

When asked why, he explains the project is good for Illinois because it includes an Abraham Lincoln National Heritage Area. …