Progress Illinois: “Ray LaHood? Really?”

Posted on December 18, 2008

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“Ray LaHood? Really?”

by Adam Doster on December 17, 2008 – 1:14pm

I think I just ruined Jacky Grimshaw’s morning.

“Ray Lahood? Really?!?” That was the reaction from the transportation and community development coordinator at the Chicago-based Center for Neighborhood Technology when I relayed the news that the retiring seven-term Republican congressman from Peoria was being considered as Secretary of Transportation in the incoming Obama administration. “You’ve left me totally dumbfounded. Ray LaHood?”

Since our last post noting the initial rumors, both the Peoria Journal-Star and the Tribune have heard from GOP sources that the president-elect will announce Lahood as his pick on Friday.

You can’t blame Grimshaw for being caught off-guard. As she explained, she’s never “seen or heard anything he’s done” with regards to mass transit from his first election in 1994 until now, including the negotiations over SAFETEA-LU four years ago.

So what can we glean about LaHood’s record on this issue? The moderate Republican has broken with his party over Amtrak funding, voting yes last summer to expand passenger rail service. In 2005, he told the Peoria Journal-Star that “we’ve got a good Amtrak system in Illinois and I don’t think we want to destroy it by talking about privatization.” In 2006, he received a 66 percent rating from the American Road and Transportation Builders Association, a major transportation construction lobby. He also voted in favor of the Saving Energy Through Public Transportation Act of 2008, a bill to promote increased public transportation use that garnered string bi-partisan support. Other than that, we know very little.

As Ryan Avent notes, there are now two possible conclusions one can draw from the choice: either Obama doesn’t intend the DOT secretary to do the heavy lifting on his transportation policies or he doesn’t really care about transportation. During the campaign, Obama made some bold statements about transit and the energy economy, so I’m not convinced the latter has any merit. The former seems more plausible. In the meantime, we’ll just have to wait and see what LaHood has to say on Friday.

LaHood Accepts Transportation Secretary Job

By Paul Kane and Philip Rucker

Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Ill.) last night accepted an offer to become
President-elect Barack Obama’s transportation secretary and the nomination
will be made official in coming days, a senior Democratic official said.

LaHood, 63, who is retiring after representing a rural downstate district in
Congress since 1995, becomes the second Republican tapped for Obama’s
Cabinet. In recent years, LaHood developed a close relationship with Obama,
becoming a key player on the House Appropriations Committee on behalf of the
Illinois delegation. A moderate Republican, LaHood has not shied away from
criticizing the Bush administration and has a reputation for working with
leaders of both political parties.

From his perch atop the Department of Transportation, LaHood will be a key
player in the new administration’s public works projects designed to
stimulate the struggling economy.

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