Early life and education
Roger Keats was born (1948) in Cleveland Ohio, where his father was working at the time. His father, Robert L. Keats, a WWII army veteran, was born and raised in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago and graduated from the University of Chicago in 1936. His mother, Margaret Ann Achelpohl Keats was born in Peoria, Illinois and raised in Galesburg, Illinois where she graduated from Knox college in 1938. The family returned to live in Hyde Park in 1950 where Keats and his 3 brothers attended the Chicago Public Schools. The family later moved to Evanston, Illinois where all 4 Keats brothers graduated from (ETHS) Evanston Township High School. At ETHS Keats was an All American swimmer. He chose to attend the University of Michigan, the Alma mater of his mentor, legendary high school swimming coach, Dobby Burton. At Michigan (1966-70), the a campus was noted for liberal political activists and anti-war protests. The radical (and often violent) SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) was founded there just prior to Keats' arrival). Despite this, Keats was a Republican political activist and a member of ROTC and an elected member of the governing student body. Keats received a degree in education.
After teaching and coaching part time at ETHS, Keats attended the University of Illinois (1971-72) where he received his Masters Degree in Social Sciences and was commissioned a Lieutenant in the U. S. Army. Keats, the fourth member of his family to be an officer in the U. S. Army, was commissioned by his father, a retired Lieutenant Colonel who also commissioned Keats' two older brothers. His older brother, Captain Robert G. Keats was killed in action in Viet Nam (1968). Bob, a 1965 Graduate of the U. S. Military Academy at West Point, received a Silver Star for gallantry in combat and is buried at West Point; one of the thousands of West Pointers buried there and referred to as The Long Gray Line. The loss of Robert was a devastating tragedy for the entire family.
Early career and activities
As a young man, Keats was a political activist involved in numerous campaigns and causes. He volunteered for his first congressional race in 1962 as a fourteen year old precinct captain, and was a Co-Chair of the Reagan for President Campaign in Michigan in 1968 (President Reagan didn't run in the Michigan primary in 1968, but that important technicality didn't dampen Keats' and his friends' youthful enthusiasm in the least. In 1972, Keats chose active military duty during the Viet Nam War era.
After completing active military service in 1974, Keats went to Washington D. C. to become a Senior Research Associate for the House Republican Study Committee (1974-75). Dr. Edwin J. Feulner, President of the internationally renowned free market think tank, the Heritage Foundation, was Executive Director of the Republican Study Committee at the time. Keats' staff responsibilities were in the areas of energy and military affairs. Keats' time in Washington allowed him to learn from the brilliant Feulner and be there at the birth of the Republican Renewal and the Reagan Era. Feulner played a key role in providing the intellectural, free market ideas that resulted in unprecedented economic growth from the Reagan years forward. Keats worked with Congressman Jack Kemp (R-NY), the guru of supply side economics (Kemp-Roth tax cuts) and political outreach to minorities. Jack Kemp had a profound effect on Keats' political philosophy. Keats returned to his home in Illinois where he worked in education and banking. In 1976, he helped to start the Illinois Conservative Union and was elected to the Illinois General Assembly at the age of 28.
Keats was elected as a Republican member of the Illinois House of Representatives in November of 1976 and immediately took office since his predecessor had resigned to become a judge. His seat mate was future governor, Jim Edgar, and Keats became a friend and strong supporter of Edgar during his rise to Secretary of State and Governor. Keats' strong legislative staff background, political campaign management experience, staunch fiscal conservatism and often grating independence made him a prominent, although not always popular, freshman. In 1977, following through with his belief in Jack Kemp's outreach concepts, he lined up Republican votes and worked closely with Black Democrat, Representative Walter Shumpert, (West side of Chicago) to pass business tax incentives for economic development on Shumpert's depressed West Side. In 1978, Keats was elected to the Illinois Senate.
Keats was very active with the Reagan for President campaigns in 1976, 1980 and 1984. He was offered a position in the Reagan administration in 1981 but chose to stay in the Illinois Senate rather than return to Washington.
During his Senate years (1979-93), Keats was best known for major bi-partisan and key bi-racial accomplishments in three areas:
Reform of Illinois' financial services industry: Prior to reform, Illinois banking laws were based on archaic, nineteenth century concepts of banking. Illinois banks were subject to "Unit Banking" which meant that a bank was limited to one location plus a single branch located within a specified geographic area. This put Illinois banks at a tremendous competitive disadvantage to banks in every other state since growth was severely restricted. It was also a burden for consumers since they were limited to one location for all banking needs. Keats sponsored and fought for reform legislation that ushered in the modern era of banking in Illinois including multi-branch locations. It was a difficult task since many smaller banks opposed allowing competition. They often had a monopoly in their communities and did not want other banks competing for their customers.
Financial restructure of Mass Transit: Keats worked with Mayor Harold Washington to insure the long term financial viability of the metropolitan mass transit system which was on the brink of bankcruptcy at the time. The reforms included setting standards for fare box percentages that forced fiscal discipline on the Transit Authority. As a result of these reforms, mass transit in Illinois was fiscally viable for twenty five years until the Democrat controlled State Legislature changed the regulations (under pressure from transit unions and politically connected Chicago contractors)ushering in the current financial chaos in mass transit.
Reform of Cook County Courts: In 1983 a federal investigation (Operation Greylord and Operation Gambat) uncovered massive corruption in the Cook County Courts. Over 100 judges, lawyers and court personnel went to jail as a result. Senator Roger Keats worked with the Democrat Black Caucus to successfully implement reforms. The legislation created Sub Circuits which broke the stranglehold the white Democrat machine had on the election of judges. Prior to the reform legislation, judges were "slated" by a handful of white Democrats who blocked access to the ballot for blacks and hispanics. The legislation created The Cook County Sub Circuit Judicial system, and was called "the finest example of bi-racial, bi-partisan legislative action I have ever seen, anywhere" by Governor Jim Edgar who signed the legislation.
Keats was jokingly nicknamed the "Honorary Co-Chairman of the Black Caucus" by its then Chair, Senator Earlean Collins (D- Chicago/Oak Park). Operation Push/ Rainbow Coalition and the Rev. Jesse Jackson honored the coalition members who cleaned up the Cook County Courts and increased the Black, Hispanic and Republican representation on the bench. In 2009, Keats was honored by the Illinois Judicial Council (the association of Black Judges) for Black History Month. Since this bi-racial, bi-ethnic and bi-partisan clean up, not one judge from Cook County has been indicted.
Both Tyrone Fahner, former Illinois Attorney General, former federal prosecutor and later managing partner of Mayer Brown & Platt, and Richard Williamson, President Reagan's Chief of Intergovernmental Affairs and President Bush's special Ambassador to Sudan & Darfur, singled out Keats as the key person who helped to forge the multi-racial and multi-ethnic coalition that was so successful in protecting the voting rights of minorities and Republicans.
Activities other than legislative
Keats describes the Illinois' legislature as a "citizen legislature" when he served. The salary was minimal and the legislators were expected to earn a living elsewhere. A large percentage of legislators were either lawyers or City of Chicago or Cook County employees. During his tenure, Keats was a teacher, banker and a small business owner. His company specialized in environmental/civil engineering work but did not have any contracts with the State of Illinois.
In 1995 Keats was appointed by Governor Jim Edgar (R-Ill) to the Board of the Illinois International Port District (Port of Chicago), the largest fresh water port in the world where he served until 2001. Keats moved to the retail financial services sector, working for Oppenheimer, Ameriprise and Morgan Stanley where he served as a branch manager. At Morgan Stanley, Keats was a top rated branch manager in the Midwest Region. Due to his financial expertise, State Treasurer Judy Barr Topinka (R-Ill) appointed him a member of the Illinois State Treasurer's Public Investor Task to review Illinois' statutes governing the investment of public funds.
Keats was on the Garfield Counseling Center board of directors for 11 years (1984-95). Garfield, located on Chicago's West side was probably the largest drug and alcohol treatment facility in the state at that time. Keats also served on the board of HELP (Human Effective Living Programs) a not for profit that dealt with child sexual abuse and sexual offenders. He taught economics at two local colleges.
Retired Lieutenant Colonel Keats spent 28+ years in the U. S. Army, primarily in Armor (tanks) and military intelligence assignments. He has a top secret clearance, commanded several units, taught classified classes at the U. S. Army Intelligence Center & School at Fort Huachuca, Arizona. and is a graduate of the U. S. Army Command & General Staff College, the equivalent of a Military Doctorate degree.