Who Will Replace Ray LaHood at DOT and What Will It Mean For Motorists?

Ronnie Schreiber
by Ronnie Schreiber
who will replace ray lahood at dot and what will it mean for motorists

NTSB Chair Debbie Hersman, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa

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.

Former Michigan governor, Jennifer Granholm

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.

Outgoing Washington state governor, Christine Gregoire

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

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  • SCE to AUX SCE to AUX on Jan 30, 2013

    I think Deborah Hersman has done a pretty good job at the NTSB. She's been pretty no-BS when it comes to airplane crashes, and the ongoing Dreamliner investigation. She might be more effective staying at the NTSB dealing with real problems, rather than being corrupted by the DOT. http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/01/28/aviation-s-iron-lady-ntsb-chairwoman-deborah-hersman.html

  • Flatout05 Flatout05 on Jan 31, 2013

    I have no idea who the appointee will be, but I'm confident he or she will carefully weigh each dime of the agency's expenditure; tirelessly seek ways to trim the fat, starting with an across-the-board 10% budget cut as a sign of good faith; and focus on eliminating useless regulations that please nobody but paper-pushing apparatchiks. Ha! Had you going for a minute there, didn't I? It'll be a hack.

  • Dusterdude @El scotto , I'm aware of the history, I have been in the "working world" for close to 40 years with many of them being in automotive. We have to look at situation in the "big picture". Did UAW make concessions in past ? - yes. Do they deserve an increase now ? -yes . Is their pay increase reasonable given their current compensation package ? Not at all ! By the way - are the automotive CEO's overpaid - definitely! (That is the case in many industries, and a separate topic). As the auto industry slowly but surely moves to EV's , the "big 3" will need to be producing top quality competitive vehicles or they will not survive.
  • Art_Vandelay “We skipped it because we didn’t think anyone would want to steal these things”-Hyundai
  • El scotto Huge lumbering SUV? Check. Unknown name soon to be made popular by Tiktok ilk? Check. Scads of these showing up in school drop-off lines? Check. The only real over/under is if these will have as much cachet as Land Rovers themselves? A bespoken item had to be new at one time. Bonus "accepted by the right kind of people" points if EBFlex or Tassos disapproves.
  • El scotto No, "brothers and sisters" are the core strength of the union. So you'll take less money and less benefits because "my company really needs helped out"? The UAW already did that with two-tier employees and concessions on their last contract.The Big 3 have never, ever locked out the UAW. The Big 3 have agreed to every collective bargaining agreement since WWII. Neither side will change.
  • El scotto Never mind that that F-1 is a bigger circus than EBFlex and Tassos shopping together for their new BDSM outfits and personal lubricants. Also, the F1 rumor mill churns more than EBFlex's mind choosing a new Sharpie to make his next "Free Candy" sign for his white Ram work van. GM will spend a year or two learning how things work in F1. By the third or fourth year GM will have a competitive "F-1 LS" engine. After they win a race or two Ferrari will protest to highest F-1 authorities. Something not mentioned: Will GM get tens of millions of dollars from F-1? Ferrari gets 30 million a year as a participation trophy.