BikePortland.org

Obama makes pick for Transpo. Secretary (it’s not who you think it is)

Introducing Ray LaHood, your
next Transportation Secretary.

On Friday, President Elect Obama is expected to make the formal announcement that Ray LaHood, a retiring seven-term Republican congressman from Peoria Illinois, will be his Transportation Secretary.

LaHood is a long-time friend of Obama and has worked closely in the past with Obama’s Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel.

Back in May, we (and others) speculated that maybe former Portland City Commissioner and now Congressman Earl Blumenauer would get the nod. That rumor evaporated pretty quickly, but then New York City’s shining transportation star Janette Sadik-Khan became the hot rumor. Other names on the short list included biking’s political founding father, Minnesota Congressman Jim Oberstar.

Not surprisingly, the potential of any one of those picks had biking and livable cities advocates partying in the streets.

But judging from initial response from the LaHood news, there won’t be any partying after all. Or, maybe the party will just have to be postponed.

LaHood’s transportation record is mixed. He is certainly not as progressive as a Sadik-Khan or Blumenauer (an understatement), but he has supported stronger fuel standards for cars and has put political weight behind continued funding of Amtrak.

A quick read of some comments on various articles about this news shows a range of reactions, from downright anger to a “let’s wait-and-see what he does” tone.

The optimists hope that Obama will still hold true to his campaign promises of forging a new paradigm in America’s transportation culture (he hailed Portland’s bike lanes during a visit last May). They see LaHood’s appointment as a decision to strike a bi-partisan tone in what is sure to be a transformative conversation about how to make a massive new investment in our infrastructure come 2009.

A member of our Facebook page responded to the news with hopeful optimism,

“I was also disappointed… but LaHood would be more of a project management guy, hopefully he’ll work like Bloomberg and appoint people like Janette Sadik-Khan.”

In 2004, LaHood was honored by
Illinois bike advocates at the
National Bike Summit.
(Photo: League of Illinois Bicyclists)

Others are not so optimistic. Over on Streetsblog, commenters have pointed out LaHood’s conservative voting record and low score from the League of Conservation Voters (he’s never surpassed 50%) as causes for concern.

Besides being on the Congressional Bike Caucus, there are some bright spots that at least LaHood has biking on his radar (that’s a huge improvement from our current Transportation Secretary). LaHood was a co-sponsor of the Bike Commute Tax Benefit, and in 2004, he received a “Certificate of Appreciation” from the League of Illinois Bicyclists at the National Bike Summit.

LaHood seems to have come out of nowhere. Will he bring the “change” that so many were hoping for? We’ll be watching the formal announcement on Friday very closely for more information.

— Ray LaHood on Wikipedia. For more analysis, check out this article on LaHood published a few hours ago on Bloomberg.com. A good variety of comments and response to this story can be read on Streetsblog and on the Caucus Blog at NYTimes.com.

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