Reactions from the liberal/transit blogosphere to Obama's choice for transportation secretary—a obscure moderate Republican Rep. from Illinois named Ray LaHood— range from bemused to disappointed to cautiously optimistic. A sample:
The Transport Politic:
Mr. LaHood’s record has been notable for some of its bipartisan stances, including his willingness to override the objections of his fellow Republicans and vote for the recent Amtrak reauthorization bill.
But what, exactly, is Mr. LaHood’s special background in transportation? What makes him uniquely qualified to lead this department? The answer, as of now, is not clear; he hasn’t made transportation much of a priority during his career. More than anything, it looks like Mr. Obama used the Transportation slot to stick in a moderate Republicans in order to make his cabinet seem bipartisan - but he didn’t choose a Republican with any specific interest in transportation.
The Overhead Wire:
I haven't done my due diligence but my first reaction was anger, then sadness. It's official. This is the guy. Who nobody seems to know about in a transportation light. He doesn't run a transportation agency of any type and so far as I can tell he's pro Amtrak and anti-privatization of it.
California High-Speed Rail Blog:
LaHood doesn't appear to have much of a record as a transportation expert - at least when Bush crossed the aisle for Norman Y. Mineta he got someone who knew the issues well. But the troubling thing is that what LaHood has said about [high-speed rail] isn't encouraging.
This is not the sexiest, most visionary appointment, but perhaps that’s not what’s needed in this slot. One assumes that Obama will spell out LaHood’s role pretty clearly, and depending on what that role is, he might do just fine. If it’s stategic bigthink, then we may wind up very disappointed. If it’s turning cranks and explaining to his Republican pals that rail is good for growth, well, we do need those folks.
Never heard of Ray LaHood? Neither has anyone else. It's because he's not a leader in transportation, he's a Republican Representative from southern Illinois that appears to be some sort of token gesture toward bipartisanship. It seems that no one knows much about his transportation policy, other than a few votes here and there where he broke with his fellow Republicans. Nice, but not the visionary our crumbling transportation system sorely needs.
The American Prospect:
LaHood has bucked his party's line by supporting increased funding for Amtrak, and he voted this year for the Saving Energy Through Public Transportation Act. But LaHood has no record of leadership on transit and, suffice to say, advocates are disappointed. They were hoping for more of a fire-breather in this position. Look for them to begin pushing for the appointment of a big city public transit czar (such as Janette Sadik-Khan) to head the Federal Transit Authority, the DOT agency with jurisdiction over mass transit.
If there's any upside to the LaHood appointment, it is that if he does become a strong advocate for public transit, it could neutralize the issue politically, and help scrub it clean of the veneer of "urban elitism."
Philly Bicycle News also notes that LaHood's biggest contributor is road-building equipment manufacturer Caterpillar—a company that will undoubtedly play a major role in Obama's infrastructure/roads agenda.