LaHood to step down after 2012 elections

| 10/14/2011

Before being named U.S. transportation secretary in 2009, Ray LaHood had his sights set on retirement. But an appointment to a cabinet position by President Obama was enough to keep the former Republican congressman in the public limelight.

Photo by David Tanner, Land Line Magazine

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood will step aside in 2012. In this photo, LaHood announces a $50 million “TIGER” grant for Kansas City as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, Feb. 17, 2010.

LaHood told the press on Thursday, Oct. 13, that he intends to step down at the conclusion of President Obama’s four-year term in 2012. Following an address to the National Press Club to promote President Obama’s American Jobs Act, LaHood told The Chicago Tribunethat he intends to retire from the public sector in 2012.

In the meantime, the secretary has no plans to slow down or relent on issues he feels strongly about. Since Labor Day, LaHood has barnstormed through 10 states to promote the Jobs Act. At each stop, he also fields questions on safety issues, the most publicized being distracted driving.

In 2010, LaHood outlawed texting and driving for commercial operators and is promoting other regulatory actions to address driver distractions. He told the Press Club that he wants every state in the union to ban texting and driving for drivers of all vehicles as soon as possible.

LaHood, 65, is a lifelong Republican from Illinois. A former teacher, LaHood served as staffer to lawmakers, including a stint as chief of staff for former House Minority Leader Robert Michel from 1982 to 1994. He ran successfully for Michel’s vacated seat in the ’94 elections and served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 2008.

His ability to work across the aisle helped land him the appointment to transportation secretary.

“When President Obama invited me and asked me to serve as a Republican in his Democratic administration, I accepted his invitation not just in spite of our differences on a small handful of issues, but because of them,” LaHood told the Press Club on Thursday.

“President Obama didn’t ask me to switch from one side to the other; he asked for my ideas. He asked for my perspective. He asked me to help solve the American people’s problems, to stand up for compromise and cooperation in those areas that Democrats and Republicans almost always agreed on.”

He is calling on Congress to return to the ideal that transportation is bipartisan.

“There’s no such thing as a Democratic or Republican bridge, a Democratic or Republican road, a Democratic or Republican job repairing bridges or roads that are in danger of falling down. Our infrastructure belongs to America,” he said.

The latest push is about jobs. LaHood says the American Jobs Act will inject the money for jobs in the short term while Congress works on a longer-term surface transportation authorization bill to replace the expired highway program known as SAFETEA-LU.

President Obama’s “pay fors” for the American Jobs Act include increased federal grants for innovative projects, a national infrastructure bank that would loan money for projects of regional or national significance, and the streamlining of the environmental process in an effort to speed up project delivery.

During the Press Club event, LaHood also answered questions on truckers’ hours of service, the cross-border trucking program with Mexico and fuel economy standards for cars and trucks.

See related stories:
Transportation’s long-term versus short-term dilemma
Texting rule published, this time for real
LaHood: Administration opposed to increasing fuel taxes
LaHood inks cross-border deal, OOIDA heads to court
Highway trust viable through 2012, LaHood says
LaHood: Stimulus grants big on rail