CARBONDALE — Former U.S. Congressman Jerry Costello talked about the proudest, the happiest and the saddest moments of his 25-year political career Tuesday in the SIU Student Center.
Costello is giving several lectures, organized by the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, at the Carbondale and Edwardsville campuses this year. Costello, who announced his retirement from Congress in 2011, talked about subjects including the current state of Congress and the politicians he worked with, including speakers of the House and U.S. presidents.
Costello, a Belleville Democrat, gave credit to local politicians such as the late Sen. Paul Simon and former Congressman Ken Gray, who was in the audience, for helping him get started in Washington. He also said he was pleased to have served as long as he did.
“While Congress has a pathetic approval rating with the public — with good reason — I want you to know it was an honor to serve in the U.S. Congress,” Costello said.
He spoke highly of Democrat Speakers Jim Wright and Nancy Pelosi as well as Republican Speakers Dennis Hastert and John Boehner.
On former Speaker Newt Gingrich, Costello said he was a chief engineer in organizing more personal attacks in Congress, which led to Democrat retaliation and began a landslide of partisan behavior. He said Boehner is someone who cares about the country but said he is hindered from bipartisanship by his party.
Costello also talked about his time working with presidents. He joined Congress on the tail-end of Ronald Reagan’s second term but said he has a lot of respect for George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. He said Bush was very gracious to him when his son was fighting in Operation Desert Storm.
“I didn’t always agree with (Bush’s) policies but he was a good, decent person,” Costello said.
He said he has a close relationship with Clinton and lauded his public speaking ability.
“I don’t know anyone who’s a better public speaker than Bill Clinton,” Costello said.
Costello said when he got to Washington in 1988, there was a bipartisan atmosphere in Congress and in the transportation and science committees he served in.
“That all changed after the 2010 election,” Costello said.
He said he doesn’t see any solution to the sequestration and warned those in education, such as Chancellor Rita Cheng, not to hold out hope for it to end.
“(Congress) is totally partisan and, in my judgment, it’s the most partisan it has been in 25 years,” Costello said.