Roskam seen as ‘listener in chief’

Congressman Peter Roskam speaks at a forum on healthcare legislation June 28, 2010, at Alta Villa Banquets in Addison.
Congressman Peter Roskam speaks at a forum on healthcare legislation June 28, 2010, at Alta Villa Banquets in Addison.

Rep. Peter Roskam is in his third term in the U.S. House, but the politician is a fresh face to many McHenry County residents because his 6th Congressional District was redrawn to include Algonquin Township.

The Republican, who lives in west suburban Wheaton with his wife of 24 years, Elizabeth, also serves as chief deputy whip of the House.

In that role, he has been dubbed the “listener in chief.”

“This leadership role requires that to accomplish anything, you need 218 people to agree on something,” said Roskam, 51.

“Many times, ideas can be very far apart, but over a period of time, with patience, you listen and work toward a solution and build a consensus,” he said.

Roskam’s love of politics started at an early age, although he didn’t grow up in a political family.

“I was the kid in fourth grade who couldn’t get enough of our state of Illinois project, and the one in eighth grade who loved the Constitution test,” he said. “My mom and dad voted, and that was it. I didn’t grow up in a Kennedy household.”

Roskam graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign before earning a law degree from Chicago-Kent College of Law.

He met his wife in Washington, D.C., while she was an interior designer. The couple has four children.

“I have been very fortunate because my family has been incredibly supportive,” Roskam said. “My kids have been involved basically their entire lives. This has been very much a family effort.”

Life as a parent also has benefited Roskam as a politician.

“Being a parent helps you take a longer view on things,” he said. “It also gives you a perspective on incremental changes for the good, which over time can be cumulative and add up to something significant.”

Roskam’s listening skills will make the transition to a redrawn district easier, said Darlene Ruscitti, chairman of the DuPage County Republicans.

“One of his strengths is getting to know people,” she said. “I truly believe he works for the common good, and he asks really good questions to get to the heart of the issues and a better understanding of where the voters are coming from.”

The early portion of Roskam’s career was spent being mentored by former Rep. Henry Hyde, an Illinois Republican who served for more than 30 years. Hyde led the impeachment proceedings against President Bill Clinton and championed government restrictions on funding abortions.

It was during his time with Hyde, who died in 2007, that Roskam said he learned what it meant to represent the people.

“I saw up close how one person could make a significant difference in the direction of our country,” Roskam said. “He was brilliant, quick on his feet, quick to laugh and also very good to his staff. When he spoke, his colleagues listened. That attitude and demeanor is something we should all emulate.”

Before being elected to the House, Roskam spent time in Springfield alongside then-state-Sen. Barack Obama. The two were members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, where they worked successfully on significant death penalty reforms.

“The president and I were able to come together across party lines and philosophical lines to work toward something for the common good,” Roskam said. “The things I have been involved with in the past have prepared me for how important this moment is right now.”

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