Biden, Blumenauer, and bikes

President-elect Joe Biden.
(Photo: Biden Harris Transition)

Even without official acknowledgement by the Trump Administration, President-elect Joe Biden is already moving towards the White House. Fresh off declarations of his win finally coming on Friday, he and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris have begun their transition process in earnest.

In our little corner of the internet, the buzz is about who Biden will pick to lead the U.S. Department of Transportation and what transportation policy might look like in the next four years.

The buzz is especially intense in Portland because one of the names being floated as possible DOT pick is Congressman Earl Blumenauer, the former Portland city commissioner who’s represented the best cycling city in America for the past 24 years. On Saturday, Politico included Blumenauer as the most likely pick after Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who most people see as the frontrunner.

Congressman Earl Blumenauer at Velo Cult Bike Shop in 2013.
(Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

Blumenauer would be a very safe pick politically as there’s zero chance his House district would flip to a Republican. Blumenauer also has less negatives and baggage than some of the other names at the top of the list (like former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel) — not to mention he’s only person in the running with a bridge named after them. Working against Blumenauer is the fact that Biden needs a cabinet that isn’t full of white men.

This isn’t the first time Blumenauer’s name has come up in this context. It was also floated in 2008 as former President Barack Obama assembled his team. When that idea first surfaced I wrote that, “Blumenauer in the nation’s top transportation job would signal far more than shifting political winds — it would be more like a tornado that leaves America’s ill-fated car culture in its wake.”

A big unanswered question for Biden and the party he now leads is how much of a tornado do they want to unleash. There’s a big debate in Democrat circles about just how far to the left they should go. Blumenauer — famous for having a bike pin on his lapel and who recently did a campaign event with Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — might be seen as too progressive.

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Screengrab from Biden-Harris Transition website.

Car culture and the dominance of driving is so strong in American politics that centrist Democrats cannot be counted on to push the necessary reforms needed to get us past it. As the excellent War on Cars podcast highlighted last year, “even the most liberal people in the most progressive cities are so often unable to see the problems wrought by automobiles, much less support alternative forms of transportation.”

Team Biden is already an example of this. While some transportation reformers gleefully shared a section from their transition website that promises, “High-quality, zero-emissions public transportation options… ranging from light rail networks to improving existing transit and bus lines to installing infrastructure for pedestrians and bicyclists,” they didn’t share the section above it which called for the creation of 1 million new jobs in the auto industry. And let us not forget that former VP Biden was in the room when Obama worked with Bush to bail out the auto industry during the 2008 economic crisis. Now 12 years later the auto industry hasn’t made substantial reforms and continues to profit off death and destruction by making and selling large trucks and SUVs.

This isn’t to say a Biden administration won’t have a positive impact on transportation policy. His love of commuter trains is a very good sign he’ll put money into rail (and another place he and light-rail-and-streetcar-loving Blumenauer share a common thread). Obama used transportation funding grant programs like TIGER to help America recover from the economic crash and it’s a sure bet Biden will do something similar.

It’s also worth noting that Biden rides a bike.

Speaking of bikes, the League of American Bicyclists will host a webinar on Zoom this Thursday (11/12) at 12 noon that will answer questions about what the election means for the League’s policy goals and the next transportation bill.

As for Blumenauer, I think it’s only polite to ask him if he’s interested in the job before we get too excited about the prospect. I hope to chat with him sometime this week. Stay tuned.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org
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David Hampsten
2 years ago

Judging from Biden wanting to have the “most diverse cabinet ever”, Representative Blumenauer is unfortunate in his choice of parents and gender. I think Biden is more likely to eventually choose some state DOT director. From Delaware maybe?

Hello, Kitty
Hello, Kitty
2 years ago
Reply to  David Hampsten

Representative Blumenauer is unfortunate in his choice of parents and gender

Only if you measure “diversity” by superficial external characteristics.

Shuppatsu
Shuppatsu
2 years ago
Reply to  Hello, Kitty

And we do! And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Hello, Kitty
Hello, Kitty
2 years ago
Reply to  Shuppatsu

No, not necessarily bad, but if you end up with a bunch of people with the same outlook/experiences/background/etc., you may think you’ve achieved “diversity” if everyone looks different, even if you haven’t. By focusing on the wrong things, it’s possible to lose your way (possibly venturing into the dark land of tokenism).

If you do diversity right, the superficial external characteristics tend to take care of themselves. But that should be an outcome, not the primary goal it too often is.

Zach
Zach
2 years ago
Reply to  Hello, Kitty

You’re completely right, but I don’t think liberal society is going to collectively realize this until we somehow elect a black Republican president.

Momo
Momo
2 years ago
Reply to  Hello, Kitty

In this case, Biden has been clear he wants a cabinet that has more racial and gender diversity, so Blumenauer is probably somewhat of a long-shot when there are plenty of other qualified people.

David Hampsten
2 years ago
Reply to  Hello, Kitty

OK, I’m game. What meaningful diversity do you believe that Representative Blumenauer would bring to a Biden cabinet that the other 222 House Democrats would not bring?

Hello, Kitty
Hello, Kitty
2 years ago
Reply to  David Hampsten

Bicycle perspective, of course. It’s an underrepresented viewpoint.

David Hampsten
2 years ago
Reply to  Hello, Kitty

But Biden rides. I’m sure others do too. What else?

Hello, Kitty
Hello, Kitty
2 years ago
Reply to  David Hampsten

No one rides like Earl! and Hello, Kitty.

Middle of the Road Guy
Middle of the Road Guy
2 years ago
Reply to  David Hampsten

the vastly underrepresented Bowtie perspective. Reminds me of the Halcyon Days of Senator Paul Simon.

Hello, Kitty
Hello, Kitty
2 years ago

No one does bows like Earl! and Hello, Kitty.

JBone
JBone
2 years ago

Why are politicians appointed to these roles? Why not respected academics and industry leaders?

MaddHatter
MaddHatter
2 years ago
Reply to  JBone

To expand Jonathan’s glib answer, you want respected academics and experts in the field to be doing the actual work and crafting policy. Those activities happen a tier or two or three below the level of these political appointments. At the political appointee level, all the time is spent in meetings, coordination, trading goodwill here and there, acting as symbolic figurehead, cheerleading, and basically being a salesperson for the vision. There’s not a lot of time left to “get one’s hands dirty”. The political work demands mostly human-interface skills and a broad network of existing relationships cutting across any particular policy area, which is a distinct set of skills from what makes one an expert in their field or good academic.

JBone
JBone
2 years ago
Reply to  MaddHatter

It was a sincere question, so thanks for an informative answer.

J_R
J_R
2 years ago

McConnell is likely to oppose Biden’s selection of every cabinet nominee, ambassador, and judge. Biden may have to have a series of 210-day temporary appointees until the Democrats gain control of the Senate in 2022. Why would someone resign a safe seat where one can support a progressive agenda in exchange for a seven-month appointment?

Hello, Kitty
Hello, Kitty
2 years ago
Reply to  J_R

Biden will likely consider appointing several Republican senators from states with Democratic governors to change the dynamics of the senate. I expect he’ll get a lot of short-sighted pushback if he does.

LK
LK
2 years ago
Reply to  Hello, Kitty

Why would McConnell go along with Biden stripping him of majority control in such a way? Unless you’re saying Biden would appoint them on a temporary basis, in which case why on Earth would those Republican senators go along with that for a 7 month gig?

Hello, Kitty
Hello, Kitty
2 years ago
Reply to  LK

The way I would do it is have my appointees resign first; they’d be replaced by Democrats; senate control would be passed to the Democrats; who could then appoint the appointees.

It’s not the thing I would ordinarily support, but McConnell is not an ordinary senator.

David Hampsten
2 years ago
Reply to  LK

McConnell has no say if a fellow republican senator wants to resign from the Senate to join Biden’s cabinet (though I think it’s rather unlikely to happen anyway). It’s up to the governor of the respective state to appoint a replacement for the rest of that Senator’s term or until they can have a special election (as in Georgia right now). Traditionally the governor appoints someone from the same party as the outgoing Senator (or Representative), but there’s no law that says they have to.

Bikeninja
Bikeninja
2 years ago

The ” Senator from Mastercard”, will appoint whoever big oil and big transportation want him to.

https://www.democracynow.org/2008/8/25/headlines/nader_describes_biden_as_the_mastercard_senator

Rain Waters
Rain Waters
2 years ago

So the election’s been certified ?

Bikeninjs
Bikeninjs
2 years ago
Reply to  Rain Waters

It has been certified by the television and internet media ,just as it was intended by the founders of the country in the 1700’s.

David Hampsten
2 years ago

December 15th is when the Electors meet, whoever they happen to be, plenty of time still to the suffer ups and downs of court cases and reversals of fortunes for both. Aside from two Senate seats in Georgia and a House seat in Louisiana, scheduled for run-off elections in early January per local laws, the other 2 Senate seats and 20+ house seats ought to be settled by then.

Middle of the Road Guy
Middle of the Road Guy
2 years ago

I don’t know why you wouldn’t trust Trump. It’s not like he got rid of the White House Office of Government Ethics or several other oversight committees 🙂

Momo
Momo
2 years ago
Reply to  Rain Waters

Can we not play this stupid game? Biden and Harris won. Never in the history of this country have we waited until the results are “certified” (which I believe officially happens in December) to declare a winner. Math exists, it’s real, and smart people can do the math and figure out who is going to win.

David Hampsten
2 years ago
Reply to  Momo

Actually, this waiting happened regularly in the 1800s. Americans are just good at forgetting their own history.

The election of 1876 was among the most controversial and most similar to the present one.

Fortunately, I hope, Biden isn’t another Tilden: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samuel_J._Tilden

GlowBoy
GlowBoy
2 years ago
Reply to  Rain Waters

Biden is clearly the presumptive winner of the election. Of course states won’t certify their results for a few more weeks, and the Electoral College has yet to meet on December 14, and Congress has yet to accept the results on January 6, but get real. It’s over. Is one or two states close enough that Biden won’t get 306 electors (coincidentally, the same number Trump got in 2016)? Maybe. But it’s plenty clear there’s no way he won’t get 270.

Todd/Boulanger
2 years ago

Regarding the statement: “more like a tornado that leaves America’s ill-fated car culture in its wake” that would have been more true if Earl had become the Transpo Tzar in 2009, but less seismic in 2021 has many rural areas have pivoted to bike / outdoor tourism as their economic engine…just look at Arkansas with its mountain biking and Rapha investments.

The key is to develop a very nuanced transportation uplift agenda that works great for urban areas’s strengths while also helping rural areas…One size fits all will not fly. Perhaps add a 2 or 3 tier Federal fuel tax.
[Lower in isolated rural areas and much higher in urban areas…this could also have a programmatic / budgetary trigger for each congressional district…based on local choice…if you want to keep your federal fuel tax at ‘current level’ then your share the of the funds is locked at the lowest tier and if you select the top tier then you have more funds., etc. This low tier would still have a safety net so interstate travel and safety is provided but not enhanced capacity etc.]

Thomas
Thomas
2 years ago

Jonathan, I have tried to simply give some “vote ups” for some other folks comments, but my ballot casting is being denied. hmmmm (tongue in cheek!). I see the total number of vote ups in the comment area but when I try to vote up a comment, it says I have already voted. Curious. Any thoughts? Thanks.

cmh89
cmh89
2 years ago

the former Portland city commissioner who’s represented the best cycling city in America for the past 24 years.

I didn’t know Blumenaur represented Washington DC…

Racer X
Racer X
2 years ago
Reply to  cmh89

Not sure how Portland keep’s “best cycling city” still…as that ranking was so 2012, sounds more like “boosterism” or sales…
2015:
https://www.bicycling.com/news/a20015660/bike-friendly-cities-5/

dwk
dwk
2 years ago

Earl probably won’t get the job, but the comments here questioning or thinking this election is not over are ridiculous.
This will be over soon, not a close race, not ONE issue brought to court by Trumps clown attorneys like Guliani have been considered.
They have nothing at all except tweets.
Biden won.
I think he will pick a DOT director that will be fine.
Stop the madness.
This is 52-48, like Obama and Romney.
Was that close?

dwk
dwk
2 years ago
Reply to  dwk

Actually as of 6 pm today rounded a tad it is 50.8% to 47.5% and they have not finished with west coast.
It will end up 51.5 to 48. Against an Incumbent…
Don’t believe Trump media, apparently a lot here have……

Todd/Boulanger
2 years ago
Reply to  dwk

Trump’s team event at Four Seasons [Landscaping] will now be included in all college poly sci classes on election planning:
https://www.thecut.com/2020/11/how-did-trumps-team-land-on-four-seasons-total-landscaping.html

doug B
doug B
2 years ago

Janette Sadik-Khan should be the next transportation secretary.

Lazy Spinner
Lazy Spinner
2 years ago
Reply to  doug B

You beat me to it! She would be a great choice.

FDUP
FDUP
2 years ago
roberta
2 years ago

I think we need to release our attachment on having a person of color as a Transportation lead. Blumeanaur is the most qualified person for the job, nationally. Hands down. I’m not under any illusion that we need a person of color in this place to actuate the changes needed. He is not too progressive, he’s been studying the issues for decades, he has the most cost efficient solutions.

I think we all need to take a history lesson: owning a car for a Black person means FREEDOM. Freedom that the rest of our society couldn’t give them due to systemic racism. Asking Black people or someone else of color to fix car culture, who doesn’t have the experience that Blumeaneuar has, is setting up this person for failure.

A lot of Black culture and black family wealth was built on auto manufacturing markets. I mean look at Damian Llilard. His status was expanded in Portland this year for partnering with a Toyota car dealership for sponsorship, how is that a climate change sponsorship? Its s not.

This is a poor example, but just look at the speed racing issues that has spun out of the summer of protests for BLM. Just what are they protesting and is it worth the damage to our neighbors and streets? Vision Zero was supposed to mean slowing cars down in the city. Now we have speeding issues. Nationally we could implement a speed kill switch in city centers. I guarantee that type of policy won’t be coming from black politicians like Lew Frederick (Black Democratic Senator who wants to build freeways next to Harriet Tubman Middle School).

We need a seasoned politician as the Chair of DOT, I don’t care what color their skin is. Blumeanaur should get the job.

roberta
2 years ago

Elaine Cho is the existing Secretary of Transport. She is a women of color. She didn’t do anything to move the needle on reducing GHG emissions in the transport sector.