plenty, but can find common ground with him on bikes.
(Photo by J.Maus/BikePortland)
Last week we wrote that “biking and walking safety should be a bipartisan issue.” Today we got a reminder that it still is — and just how rare such issues are recently.
On the same day the Senate recut its rules to fit the current slash-and-burn politics of Washington, Politico published a profile of U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Portland), puzzling over how one of the House’s most liberal members got two Republicans to cosponsor his bill to ensure that bike safety is officially one of the ways to measure a federal road project’s success.
The bespectacled Democrat, known for wearing colorful bike pins and bringing fruitcake to reporters over the holiday season, joked that he’s a big fan of “bike-partisanship.”
“Life’s too short, and I think infrastructure is a natural bipartisan platform,” he said.
Blumenauer is one of the more active members during House votes, one of his aides said. Even though votes are pretty much the only time all House members gather in the same room, many lawmakers spend the time checking their phones or chatting casually with colleagues. But not Blumenauer — he talks up issues and legislation with fellow members.
[U.S. Rep. Howard] Coble [R-NC], who announced recently amid health problems that he won’t run for reelection next year, admitted he’s only “vaguely familiar” with Blumenauer’s bill.
So why is he a co-sponsor?
His reason points to just how much personal relationships matter on the Hill and the lasting power of transportation’s bipartisan tradition: “I’m really not that familiar with the bill. I just signed on because Earl asked me to, told me he was promoting it,” Coble said.
The North Carolina lawmaker, at 82 years old, said he “wouldn’t think about riding a bike to work in a rural area like my district, much less up here” in Washington.
It’s great that Bluemenauer has used 16 years in Washington to build strong and useful relationships. But from 2,500 miles outside the Beltway, we wonder if it’s actually as strange or remarkable as Politico seems to think that an 82-year-old who doesn’t ride a bike himself might trust an expert like Blumenauer on the details of bike policy, or that he might want to ensure that federal road projects consider people on bikes and foot.
In most of the rest of the country, we suspect that designing safer roads just sounds like good American horse sense.
Michael Andersen was news editor of BikePortland.org from 2013 to 2016 and still pops up occasionally.