Ray LaHood chosen to lead DOT

 - January 28, 2009, 7:24 AM

Former Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Ill.), who retired in December at the end of his seventh term in Congress, has been confirmed to serve as secretary of transportation in President Obama’s Administration, making him the second Republican (after Defense Secretary Robert Gates) to sit in his Cabinet.

LaHood served on the House aviation subcommittee for several years. According to his official biography, he has been a proponent for improving local airports through securing funds for new construction and expansion, while also working with officials to increase air service. In 2000 AOPA called him a “strong advocate of general aviation.”

Although LaHood presided over the impeachment of President Clinton and strongly supported Sen. John McCain in the election, he also developed a close relationship with Obama while working on the House Appropriations Committee on behalf of the state of Illinois. He is also friendly with former Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.), who is now White House chief-of-staff.

LaHood’s nomination as DOT secretary took most people by surprise, since he was never a blip on Washington pundits’ radar to replace former DOT Secretary Mary Peters. But according to The Washington Post, when Obama and LaHood ran into each other on the House floor last spring, Obama said, “You’re at the top of my list.”

As DOT secretary, LaHood will play a major role in overseeing transportation infrastructure programs that Obama is expected to put forth as part of a huge economic stimulus package. But his congressional district–in which Peoria is the largest city–is mostly rural and he is not an acknowledged authority on transportation issues, especially mass transit and rail.

National Air Transportation Association president James Coyne, himself
a former congressman, called LaHood an “excellent” choice for transportation secretary. “The congressman has been a long-standing advocate for general aviation during his tenure in Congress, and we look forward to this continuing support and his leadership as transportation secretary,” said Coyne.

NBAA president and CEO Ed Bolen said, “Representative LaHood is widely recognized as an effective public servant, with a solid grasp of transportation policy, as demonstrated by his work on the House Appropriations Committee.”

AOPA president Craig Fuller sees LaHood’s service on the House aviation subcommittee and the House Appropriations Committee as a good sign for pilots. “The Appropriations Committee has adamantly opposed aviation user fees, and with that experience, his input at the White House should be helpful to general aviation,” he said, adding that LaHood’s past efforts in supporting GA airports indicate
that he understands the importance of general aviation to the transportation infrastructure.

House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee chairman Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.) praised LaHood for his “legacy of civility, of decency, of bringing people together, of reaching consensus and reaching across party lines.”

“What Ray LaHood brings to the department, and what the department needs, is managerial talent and the right temperament to get the job done,” Oberstar added.