CHICAGO – Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert, who made a farewell speech to House colleagues 11 day earlier, made his resignation official Monday with a letter to Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
Hastert's formal resignation, which was to take effect at 11:59 p.m. EST Monday, came the same day that Mississippi GOP Sen. Trent Lott announced he would retire by year's end after 35 years in Congress.
Hastert had announced in August he wouldn't seek another term and earlier this month confirmed he wouldn't finish his 11th term, but he hadn't said when he would resign his seat.
In his letter, Hastert said he chose Monday because he was advised it would give Blagojevich sufficient time to set a special primary election for Feb. 5 so voters can pick candidates to run for the remainder of his term, which ends in January 2009.
Hastert said Feb. 5 makes sense because that's the day Illinoisans will go to the polls in regular primary elections to cast votes for president and other offices.
"This will minimize inconvenience to the voters and expense to the counties in the 14th Congressional District," Hastert said in his three-paragraph letter.
If Blagojevich calls the special primary for that day, voters in Hastert's northern Illinois district not only will choose candidates to run for his unexpired term, but also cast ballots in a regular primary election to whittle down the candidates who will run to be Hastert's full-time replacement.
Four Republicans and four Democrats filed paperwork to get on the ballot for the chance to replace Hastert, and those already in the race have said they want the chance to finish his term.
Blagojevich has five days to set the election and had not done so as of Monday evening, said his spokeswoman, Abby Ottenhoff.
Hastert also sent a letter Monday to Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi telling her he had tendered his resignation to Blagojevich.
In his letter to Pelosi, Hastert called it a "high honor" to have served in Congress and he wished her and his former colleagues "God's blessing" as they continued to serve.
Hastert's resignation caps a 21-year career in Congress that saw the former wrestling coach serve as House speaker longer than any other Republican.