|Courtesy of Politico.com.|
So now that outgoing Mary Peters will officially be replaced by Republican Illinois Rep. Ray LaHood as the new U.S. Secretary of Transportation, all we can say is: seriously? The news comes right on the heels of news that the much-anticipated federal stimulus package will be hastily applied to shovel-ready road projects that will only prompt more driving, and transit advocates have erupted in protest over President-Elect Obama’s excessive commitment to expanding our nation’s system of roads and bridges. Yours truly is not exactly a devoted fan of MTC’s Steve Heminger, who was one of the top candidates for the post, but he at least has a developed transportation record. For LaHood, there is a record, albeit a somewhat spotty one. Encouragingly, though, that record shows Ray LaHood crossing party lines on transportation issues. This year, he co-sponsored HR 6030, a bill that amends the Internal Revenue Code, allowing a tax credit for half of the cost an employer incurs to furnish its employees with tax-free transit passes. He voted in favor of Amtrak reauthorization and the Saving Energy Through Public Transportation Act, and he has advocated on behalf of bicyclists. That strikes us as more of a minimum for someone filling this post under an Obama cabinet; is that as good as we can do? LaHood has served on the House Appropriations Committee, but he has not worked specifically on funding for transit. Some have expressed optimism about his managerial skills. Still, what truly matters is the underlying policy that Obama will drive once he is in office. He has pledged in the past that he will to do battle with climate change, and we hope that Obama will not undermine the importance of the role for progressive transportation and land use policy in that battle. What does it say that Obama has chosen this appointment as a sacrifice to bipartisanism, and what does that reveal about Obama’s commitment, or lack thereof, to this increasingly critical issue? Quite a lot, we fear — but not too much, we continue to hope; we refer you to the title of this post. Update (19 Dec 2008): CQ transcript with brief LaHood blurb here.