Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood will be leaving his job. Since the head of the U.S. Dept. of Transportation impacts motorists at a number of levels, from regulating auto manufacturers to pressuring states to trying to regulate driver behavior when it comes to distracted driving, it’s worthwhile to look at the possible candidates to replace Sec. LaHood and what their appointment would mean to drivers and car enthusiasts.
The Associated Press reports that there are three people being considered for nomination by Pres. Obama: Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, National Transportation Safety Board chairwoman Debbie Hersman, and former Minnesota congressman Jim Oberstar, who was the chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Oberstar is 79 years old and since the Obama administration has already been criticized for a lack of “diversity”, it’s not likely that the president will nominate another old white guy. It looks like Pres. Obama will choose between a bureaucrat and some politicians.
Hersman is finishing out her second term at the NTSB, having first been nominated by Pres. George W. Bush and then again by Pres. Obama. Her initiatives at the NTSB, according to her bio at the agency website, have included distracted driving, passenger safety (the NTSB’s primary role is investigating transportation accidents so its purview includes things like plane crashes, train derailments and bus plunges), and helping accident victims and their families. Previously she was a senior advisor to the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation and was a Staff Director and Senior Legislative Aide to a member of Congress. Interestingly, in addition to her academic degrees, she holds a CDL (with passenger, school bus, and air brake endorsements) as well as a motorcycle endorsement.
Hersman probably wouldn’t be a terrible pick. Her appointment would probably mean more of the same, a continuation of the transportation policies of the last two administrations. The fact that her bio does mention distracted driving says to me that she’s going to ride LaHood’s hobby horse regarding cellphones and infotainment. Again, that’s nothing new. Still, if I was betting, I wouldn’t count on Hersman’s nomination.
The National Hispanic Leadership Agenda, a consortium of 30 Latino special interest groups, has sent Pres. Obama a list of potential cabinet level appointees that have the apparently have the correct politics and ethnicities to merit their approbation. Antonio Villaraigosa is on that list. Mayor Villaraigosa, who was the chair of the 2012 Democratic National Convention, has been a proponent of public transit including increased rail service in Los Angeles. The mayor has also been outspoken in support of what some have called California’s “high speed train to nowhere“. Villaraigosa has recently been the chairman of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, where he’s been an advocate for buses, trains and bicycles.
Other possible candidates suggested by The Hill, which covers Washington politics the way the Sporting News covers baseball, are former governors Jennifer Granholm of Michigan and Washington state’s Christine Gregoire. Both ran states where transportation is a major industry, with Michigan being the center of the auto industry and Washington being home to much of Boeing’s manufacturing. If Granholm is nominated and confirmed, expect an emphasis on alternative energy, something she championed as governor.
Gregoire is an outside shot, with some saying that she’s been actually slotted to replace Lisa Jackson at the EPA. Also, Granholm might be seen by the Democratic base as too close to the automakers, though with the bailout and restructuring of GM and Chrysler and hundreds of millions of dollars of stimulus and Dept. of Energy loans/grants going to favored businesses, Democrats don’t seem to mind government and business getting cozy if the businesses say and do the right things.
Granholm would undoubtedly have the support of the UAW and the rest of organized labor, but if I had to bet, I’d say Mayor Villaraigosa will be moving to D.C.
Fifty years ago, car enthusiasts would probably have welcomed any mayor from then car crazy California to have had a role shaping the nations transportation. How much difference a half century can make. Villaraigosa gives every indication that he’s the kind of transportation activist that sees the personal automobile as a problem in need of a public transportation solution.
Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can dig deeper at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS