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Wednesday, May 7, 2008 04:45 pm

The king of lobbyists

Dick Lockhart says the first 50 years were the hard part

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Dick Lockhart discussed his war experiences with the Illinois Channel in 2006. To listen to the archived interview, go to www.illinoischannel.org/military.htm.

Members of the General Assembly are always reading resolutions to laud somebody or something, but it isn’t common for a lobbyist to get such an honor or for lawmakers to give him a standing ovation — but that’s exactly what happened on April 2, when the Illinois House of Representatives congratulated Dick Lockhart for an amazing 50 years of helping shape state law on behalf of his clients. Later that night, Democratic and Republican members of the House and Senate gathered at the Sangamo Club for a reception in Lockhart’s honor. Among the dignitaries who paid tribute were House Speaker Michael Madigan, Senate President Emil Jones, Senate GOP Leader Frank Watson, and U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin.
 The date held special meaning for Lockhart: It’s the anniversary of his liberation from Stalag IX-B in Bad Orb, Germany. Lockhart was only 20 on Dec. 22, 1944, during the Battle of the Bulge, when the Germans captured him. He recalls how the temperature hit below zero, the unit was running low on ammunition, and the officers in charge decided to surrender. “I was just Pvt. 1st Class Lockhart. I didn’t approve of surrendering, but the officers made the decision,” he says. Lockhart and his fellow other POWs spent four days and nights crowded inside a boxcar with no food or water on their way to the prison camp. They arrived the day after Christmas.
Lockhart is gregarious, and his eyes sparkle with a kind of mischievous glint. He greets people with enthusiasm and laughs often. His humor and spry gait belie the fact that he is 84 years old. One would never know that he had been beaten during his time in the POW camp, but when asked he shares terrifying details. Once, the men were taken outside to saw wood. There was a foot of snow on the ground and it was quite cold. A German guard picked up a log and began beating him and several others. “My feet froze and still give me problems, and my back often hurts from the beating,” he says. After facing that kind of torment, dealing with Illinois politicians was a piece of cake. Much has changed since Lockhart first started lobbying. First, legislative sessions are quite different. “The Legislature met a few days a week during the first six months of the year; today we have full-time legislators. The amount of work has increased. When I started there were two volumes of statutes; today there are seven volumes.” With sessions lasting longer, more laws, and full-time legislators, the lobbyist’s job has changed, too, he says: “The number of lobbyists and the volume of work have increased.”
Lockhart formed Social Engineering Associates in Chicago in 1958, helped draft the referendum proposal for the 1968 Constitutional Convention, and served as a consultant to the president of the Con-Con in 1970.
In the 1960s Lockhart hosted a TV interview program, Metropolitan Report, on Chicago station WTTW (Channel 11). Each guest at the April 2 reception in Springfield received a DVD of his interview with then-House Speaker Paul Powell. (Powell, who later served as secretary of state, would become notorious after his death, when shoeboxes of cash were discovered in his closet.)
Lockhart says he lobbies for three types of clients: financial-services organizations, social-service agencies, and professional groups. His clients include the Allied Locksmiths of Illinois; the Association of Condominium, Townhouse and Homeowners; Farm Credit Services of Illinois; the Illinois Electronic Security Association; the Illinois School Psychologist Association; Mental Health America of Illinois; the Midwest Shelter for Homeless Veterans; the Retired Teachers Association of Chicago; the State Universities Association; and First Farm Credit Service.
An avid reader, Lockhart says he finishes 40 to 50 books a year, all of them nonfiction. He also loves to travel, and his home in Chicago is filled with items he has collected during his twice-yearly trips to Europe plus other vacations he has taken over the years.
The listener is struck by Lockhart’s genuine good humor on first meeting him; when he starts talking about his life as a POW and his work as a lobbyist, it becomes clear how he could receive a standing ovation and unite people — at least for one night — who typically don’t see eye to eye.
Lockhart says he thinks so many came to honor him “mainly because I have lasted 50 years. People say they can’t imagine anybody doing this so long.” But Lockhart has no plans to retire:
“The first 50 years were the hard part. I am looking forward to the future.”

Cinda Klickna is the secretary-treasurer of the Illinois Education Association and a regular contributor to Illinois Times.
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