Seven-term U.S. Rep. Ray LaHood is expected to announce Friday that he will not seek an eighth term in the U.S. House of Representives. The news came as a shock as LaHood, R-Peoria, was seen unbeatable within his 18th Congressional District that included all of Peoria and parts of Springfield.


U.S. Rep. Ray LaHood will not seek re-election and will retire at the end of his term - a bombshell decision that likely will have Republicans and Democrats alike clamoring for the coveted post.


The Peoria Republican is expected to make his announcement not to run at his campaign headquarters this morning, said LaHood’s Chief of Staff Tim Butler on Thursday.


LaHood’s decision comes less than three weeks after the long-time representative said he would seek an eighth term in Congress and that he would not seek to become president of Bradley University, as he had hinted just weeks earlier.


Butler said an explanation on the change of heart would be forthcoming today, though LaHood told WCBU-FM the timing was right to leave the public spotlight.


"If there’s ever a right time, now is the right time to really think about moving on, to think about becoming an ordinary citizen, to have an ordinary life. In the job that I’ve done, I’ve paid attention to my district. So when I come home on the weekends, it’s not to be with my family, it’s to go to three parades or two picnics or spend time meeting with farmers or whatever," LaHood told the radio station, adding he’s been in politics for 30 years.


LaHood did not return phone calls from the Journal Star for comment.


LaHood was considered a lock for re-election to the 18th Congressional seat in the Republican-leaning 20-county district. Now, who will go to Washington is anybody’s guess.


"It’ll be a mad scramble for the seat. I’ve got to think it’s going to be very interesting," said retired state Sen. George Shadid.


State Rep. Aaron Schock, R-Peoria, said Thursday he would "absolutely consider" a run for the post in November 2008, though he hadn’t previously thought about it because "this has come as a sudden surprise for everybody, so it’s going to take some time to see what pans out."


LaHood told the radio station it was a hard decision and acknowledged there’s going to be disappointment among constituents. He said there is no heir apparent to the highly coveted post, but does not fear losing the seat to a Democrat.


"This will be a wide open race. There will be plenty of Democrats and plenty of Republicans that will look at it, but in the end I believe this district will elect a Republican," LaHood told the station.


He said he will continue to work on "something" although he has "no idea what that something is." Area political leaders on Thursday floated the possibility that he may consider becoming a lobbyist, which would provide better hours and continued political influence.


Sen. Dale Risinger, R-Peoria, said it’s important for Republicans to protect the congressional seat. "Anytime you have the incumbent leave, there’s concern. There will be interest. I just heard about it today, so I haven’t had time to think about who might run," he said.


Local legislators and current and former leaders Thursday lauded LaHood’s ability to reach across party lines and reach out to constituents. He has been instrumental in securing millions in grants for numerous area agencies and organizations, was a patron of the arts and listened to the people, they said.


"Ray LaHood leaves a remarkable legacy of public service. and gigantic shoes for someone else to fill," Schock said. "I think he’s shown an uncanny ability to work in a bipartisan way, which is essential to get things done. He has had a record of accomplishments under both Democratic and Republic presidents and that speaks to his bipartisan approach."


LaHood has a long history in politics. He served two years in the Illinois House of Representatives beginning in 1982 and then as Chief of Staff for then U.S. House Minority Leader Bob Michel (his predecessor) before being elected to Congress in 1994.


Beginning in 1998, he oversaw the start of debate regarding former President Clinton’s impeachment in the House of Representatives. In 2005, LaHood considered giving up his congressional seat and running for governor, but declined and was elected in November 2006 to a seventh term.


LaHood told WCBU he’s proud of what’s he’s accomplished while in office, but with a 40th wedding anniversary on the horizon, it’s time to think about family.


"I think if you go back and look at my time in office, I’ve never thought of myself as a career politician," he said. "I do think there comes a time when it’s time to move on and do something else and this is the right time for it."