Ray LaHood Officially Announces Retirement As Transportation Secretary
After several months of uncertainty and more than a few conflicting statements, US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced today he is leaving his post this year:
I have let President Obama know that I will not serve a second term as Secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation. It has been an honor and a privilege to lead the Department, and I am grateful to President Obama for giving me such an extraordinary opportunity. I plan to stay on until my successor is confirmed to ensure a smooth transition for the Department and all the important work we still have to do.
LaHood has been a fantastic Transportation Secretary. In the first weeks after President Obama’s 2008 victory, transportation advocates made many wishlists for this post, including people like New York City’s transportation director Janette Sadik-Kahn. Instead Obama chose a largely unknown Illinois Republican Congressman, Ray LaHood. My first reaction was that the pick was troubling and that he appeared to not be a fan of high speed rail.
Well, I was wrong. Very wrong.
Ray LaHood turned out to be a fantastic Transportation Secretary, and one of Obama’s best Cabinet picks overall. LaHood pushed hard for mass transit projects, but it was high speed rail where his influence was most strongly felt. LaHood championed high speed rail projects across the country, starting with the $8 billion in HSR funding that came in the February 2009 stimulus. He refused to back down in early 2011 when Tea Party governors in Wisconsin, Ohio, and Florida wanted to kill HSR projects but keep the money for freeways. LaHood refused and gave most of that money to California.
While Jerry Brown may be the father of California high speed rail, Ray LaHood has been its guardian angel – and sometimes, its guard dog. He pushed back hard on Congressional Republican efforts to gut HSR funding. He also stared down anti-HSR legislators in Sacramento who wanted to go back on California’s own HSR plan, refusing their pleas to allow California to monkey around with the state’s $4 billion in federal HSR funds. LaHood held firm and charted a clear and strong course for the California high speed rail project and deserves immense credit for his hard work in helping see that project through its crucial years between the 2008 bond vote and the 2013 groundbreaking.
If someone wanted to name a California HSR trainset after Ray LaHood, I would not mind.
So who will succeed LaHood? Speculation remains rife that Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is a strong candidate for the job. Former US Senator from Texas Kay Bailey Hutchison, a Republican, has also been floated, though that’s probably a longshot. Governing Magazine had a long list of potential replacements back in November, including such Californians as Steve Heminger of the MTC and Will Kempton of OCTA.
My guess is that Villaraigosa has a strong chance at this, and he would be an excellent choice. As mayor he was a strong advocate in support of mass transit, helping win funding for a dramatic expansion passenger rail in Los Angeles. He is a strong supporter of California high speed rail, and has also done much for making LA more bike friendly.
President Obama is also a strong backer of high speed rail, so we don’t have to worry that with LaHood gone, the administration will somehow become less HSR-friendly. I’m sure Obama will make a good pick here, but from the perspective of California HSR, it would be particularly awesome to see Villaraigosa get the job.
Still, this is Ray LaHood’s day, and I want to thank him for his strong leadership for the California high speed rail project. His support has been crucial, and it will never be forgotten.