When then President-elect Barack Obama named retiring Republican congressman Ray LaHood (R-Ill.) to become his first secretary of transportation on Dec. 19, 2008, it raised more than a few eyebrows on both sides of the legislative aisle. But political blood proved thicker than water.
Despite his role in the impeachment of President Clinton and his strong support for Sen. John McCain in the 2008 election, LaHood became the second Republican to sit in President Obama’s Cabinet when he was confirmed as Transportation Secretary in January 2009.
It turned out that he had developed a close working relationship with Obama while representing the state of Illinois on the House Appropriations Committee. LaHood also was a friend of former Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.), who became White House chief of staff.
LaHood served on the House aviation subcommittee for several years, and he was cited in 2000 as a “strong advocate of general aviation.” During a trip to Wichita in March 2011, he lauded the importance of GA manufacturing to the state of Kansas and the U.S. industrial base.
He also acted as administration spokesman against the European Union’s Emissions Trading Scheme.
Although there were rumors that the 67-year-old LaHood would remain in the Cabinet for Obama’s second term, he told Department of Transportation employees on January 29 that he will not be staying around for a second term, but will remain until a successor is confirmed.
LaHood told the political newspaper Politico that Obama had asked him to stay on, and he was “conflicted” about leaving the “best job” he has ever had. He added that the President praised his steady hand at DOT.
NBAA noted that throughout his career, LaHood has been a strong proponent for safety and transportation infrastructure, and in aviation, these passions were reflected in his support for NextGen. “NBAA is grateful for the secretary’s leadership on international aviation issues, including his opposition to the European Union’s Emissions Trading Scheme, the participation of his deputy secretary in last year’s Asian Business Aviation Conference & Exhibition, and the effective work of his department in the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation deliberations,” said NBAA president and CEO Ed Bolen.
“Ray LaHood ran the Department of Transportation at a time of great change, especially in aviation,” said AOPA president and CEO Craig Fuller. “Technology-driven innovations, such as the NextGen advances in air traffic control and airspace management, are just now taking shape, and we look forward to working closely with his successor to ensure that general aviation continues to play a vital role in our nation’s transportation system.”
Rumored among LaHood’s possible successors are NTSB chairman Deborah Hersman, former FAA Administrator Jane Garvey and former congressman James Oberstar (D-Minn.), who served as chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure committee.