By on January 30, 2013
NTSB and Wikipedia commons photos

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.

Jennifer_Granholm Wikipedia photo

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.

Christine Gregoire - State of Washington photo

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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36 Comments on “Who Will Replace Ray LaHood at DOT and What Will It Mean For Motorists?...”

  • avatar

    That assumes Villaraigosa would take the job. Something tells me he has bigger political ambitions.

    • 0 avatar

      The self proclaimed “Pothole King” is a joke. God help us if he gets the job. Bicycle lanes and toll HOV lanes for all! I’m not sure he even knows what an airplane is. LAX is run by a separate commission.

      I dont think he would take it, not enough access to Latina reporters.

      • 0 avatar

        I’d welcome bicycle lanes for all, I don’t know how much it adds to the budget but it baffles me why they don’t build in a bike lane into new surface streets that have the space for it. Then again it baffles me why bicyclist prefer to ride right on the dividing line or out in the street when bike lanes are available?

    • 0 avatar

      Oh sure. Like what? Governor of Jalisco?

  • avatar

    So basically, the only person in the running with any real experience is a bureaucrat who really isn’t a likely candidate? How do we sneak Gordon Bethune in the mix? That guy would shake things up. After a few years, all the other Secretaries would want Transportation.

  • avatar

    When I drive through Los Angeles, I like to play the Spot The County Line game. It’s a pretty easy game as the graffiti, poor road conditions, and chicken wire (at least on the 5) make a very distinct boundary between L.A. and neighboring counties. I know Villaraigosa is mayor of the city, not the county, but come on!

    • 0 avatar

      I do the same, but it’s really not a challenge. The starkest contrast is entering Orange County from LA County….

    • 0 avatar

      Isn’t this the case for almost any urban/metro area? I’ve noticed this many places, not just LA.

      In some cases, you notice a difference within a metro area that is on a state border (e.g. St. Louis, Cincinnati, KC) when you cross state lines too.

      I’ve definitely seen cases where the less populous side had more lanes than the more populous side, so you had an annoying merge at the jurisdiction line.

  • avatar

    I nominate George Jetson – he’d finally give us the flying cars we really need.

    However, Debbie Hersman sure is easy on the eyes…

  • avatar
    gator marco

    Sec of Trans is seen as either a sop to Detroit, or a reward to an old party soldier. Villaraigosa is too young and ambitious, and Hersman is a technocrat. She was initially appointed by Bush 43, and many in DC see any ties to a Repub Administration as a net negative.
    But if all you care about are some diversity points, then I’d bet on Granholm. She’s Detroit, old party soldier, and alternate energy tied up in one.
    Villaraigosa will get some other position, maybe some sort of czar.

    • 0 avatar

      “many in DC see any ties to a Repub Administration as a net negative.”
      Agreed although Obama’s first Defense Secretary was Bob Gates who was appointed by Bush. The next Defense secretary is an ex GOP senator from the heartland and LaHood was a GOP congressman. So there are exceptions.

    • 0 avatar

      Villaraigosa may look young but he is 60 years old.

  • avatar

    It’s too bad the feds have no off track betting or lottery commission into which they could dump their used-up-politicians-and other-friends-we-owe-favors-to where they can’t do any real damage. It would beat having to give them real jobs with actual authority to affect our lives.

  • avatar

    Isn’t the Sec of Trans just a person who’s job is to find new ways to blackmail states into inacting laws that nobody wants by withholding transportation dollars?

    • 0 avatar

      Exactly! You don’t have to actually know anything about national transportation policy or have any indepth knowledge derived from a sector of the transport industry; thus the potential nominees….

    • 0 avatar

      The highway system isn’t called the “federal” highway system for nothing. Billions of federal dollars creating 10 if thousands of jobs.

      You like highways you play by the rules. And if you don’t like the rules inform your elected representative.

      Not so draconian.

      • 0 avatar

        …or remove all federal oversight and let the states regulate themselves. A less tyrannical and draconian form of government might allow for something along those lines instead of holding a pot of gold and distributing it like a pet’s treat when tricks are performed.

      • 0 avatar

        “You like highways you play by the rules. And if you don’t like the rules inform your elected representative.”

        The trouble is, most of these rules aren’t created by elected officials. And neither party really cares how rules and laws affect the general population.

        There is only one way to effectively change things. And I guess that’s why politicians want to restrict the Second Amendment so badly.

      • 0 avatar

        “…or remove all federal oversight and let the states regulate themselves.”

        So now you want to delete part of Article 1 Section 8 of the Constitution. Good luck with that one.

      • 0 avatar

        It’s one thing to require states to follow certain engineering or design guidelines for roads built with federal highway dollars, or take into account environmental concerns when designing and building a road.

        It’s quite another to require Montana or Texas, for example, to set the speed limit at 55 mph or even 65 mph on all highways. That was the case from 1974 until 1995.

        The first example makes sense. The second one does not.

      • 0 avatar


        I would think taking out parts of the Constitution would play well in the current political climate. ;)

    • 0 avatar
      Brian P

      From what I’ve been able to tell (from outside the country), their job is to blackmail states OUT of enacting stupid (local, state-specific, political agenda) laws that nobody wants by withholding transportation dollars.

      • 0 avatar

        In the late 1970s, the federal government used the threat of fewer federal transportation dollars for states that didn’t achieve a certain level of compliance with the national 55 mph speed limit on federal highways.

        You can imagine how popular that was, especially out West, where, even at that time, people regularly cruised along at 75 mph.

        In the 1980s the federal government threatened to withhold a portion of federal transportation dollars from states that did not raise their drinking age for alcohol to 21. (This was done under the Reagan Administration, so this has been a bipartisan tactic.)

        In the past, the federal government has threatened to withhold a portion of federal transportation dollars for states that didn’t toe the line on specific policies. It apparently isn’t using that tactic today (or, at least not with high-visibility transportation issues).

  • avatar

    No matter who ultimately gets the job, we already know what the next four years will be like at DOT, based on the past four years of Obama and his administration. Nothing’s gonna change.

    This is merely a continuing of the current policies, as it is with every president who’s reelected to a second term. Ray LaHood did not make policy. Ray LaHood instituted policy set forth by his boss, Obama. The next person will do the same. Doesn’t matter who gets the job.

    And as far as what it will mean for motorists, the problem is not the texting while driving or driving while otherwise distracted. The problem is that no one gets punished for causing an accident while texting or otherwise being distracted while driving.

    People who are distracted while driving and cause an accident should be charged with willful neglect resulting in an accident/death, and sent to prison. Fat chance that will ever happen.

    People defending their property and their loved ones stand a greater chance of getting sent to prison for harming the perpetrator of the crime.

    Only in America! Hope and change! Yeah, we’re changing! Here’s to hoping for something better.

    • 0 avatar

      HDC, I know how you love to troll these boards. Even if LaHood was receiving orders from Obama, I am not sure why that is such a bad thing given how most of LaHood’s agendas was pure commonsense. Distracted driving take more than 5000 lives a year or a 9/11 every 6 months. What was wrong about him wanting tougher rules to curb distracted driving? He wanted to improve roads and bridges, pushed for higher fuel economy standards, wanted to curb pilot fatigue, and pushed for high speed rail.

      And stop it with the Obama hatorade. You should be delighted to have a democrat so far to the right. Doubled down on wars, enriched the MIC, no criminal charges against any wallstreeters, increased defense spending, reduced taxes, made the rich into super rich, increased welfare/entitlements/handouts, money which ends up at corporations, took all toxic assets off bank balance sheets that tax payers are now on the hook for, made stocks go up like crazy with borrowed money (the biggest beneficiaries of rising stock prices are the super rich).

      Lets not forget that drilling, deportations, fracking, strip mining, assault weapon sales, insurance costs, corporate subsidies, and tax breaks for corporations are at an all time high.

      The only people who should be pissed are the ones that voted him in 4 years ago. Probably the worst president for the country after Reagan and Bush 2. Bush 1 promised to never raise taxes but raised them and Obama promised to raise taxes but cut them.

      • 0 avatar


        “we already know what the next four years will be like”

        I realize you were referring to DOT, but I thought the same thing after the November “election”, take solace in the fact the train will keep slowly heading for the cliff as opposed to radical change which in all honesty could result in more near-term societal problems.


        I have to say I agree with you, I doubt the White House issues orders to most of the Secretaries, most of the cabinet departments are a joke as it is and could just be removed without missing a beat. The most I would believe is the White House crafts a general policy and then forwards on memorandum to support the policy. So if the policy were ‘Support ideas around healthcare because that’s our target this year’, Secy Lahood may on his own (or with a DOT team) begin promoting key facts (texting deaths, drunk driving casualties etc) and crafting vague policies in order to support the WH’s larger directives. I would think this is how most Presidential administrations work.

        “Probably the worst president for the country after Reagan and Bush 2. Bush 1 promised to never raise taxes but raised them and Obama promised to raise taxes but cut them”

        I’ve heard alot of Reagan/Carter hate over the years but both of those men were elected before I was born, so I generally recuse myself from commentary about them. Given the Presidents from my late childhood to now I would rank Bush 1 and Obama’s terms as being much worse than Bush 2 and Clinton’s, and I say this as an avid Clinton hater but its simply the truth. But in the defense of Bush 1 and Obama, much of the problems aren’t isolated to their administrations, in both cases the Congress at the time was equally guilty of shortcomings, and I personally believe the 2006-Present Congress could easily rank as the worst in American history. If you left the current President completely to his own devices I think he’d show you his true colors pretty quickly, but its never that simple for any of them. A good deal of what has happened and what is happening,is not, and was never directly in the control of the White House.

        The tax issue was a great example, taxes probably would have gone up if not for a Republican majority in the House of Reps which gave leverage to the opposition, the White House made it pretty clear they wanted the taxes to expire. if they really believed their own rhetoric, all year long they could have made those tax cuts permanent or passed a new bill to raise them early. The Demoncratic leadership purposely ignored it and concentrated on election issues, I assume so they could blame the other side if need be when it expired or take credit for the last moment “save”.

        I think a reasonable person picks and chooses his battles and despite the so called “centrist” or “right wing” actions which have been allowed to transpire, the current President is doing alot of the damage he wants to do:

        -Doubled down on wars/increased defense spending
        Does a few things, (1) Keeps plutocrats happy, (2) keeps the ever growing 2001 to present war industry going, (3) keeps people in limbo with another never-ending conflict,(4) opium and oil keep flowing, and finally (5) it keeps a significant amount of battle-tested troops available.

        -Facilitates passing a gigantic healthcare law which nobody has read and apparently cannot rescind.
        Gives gov’t and his backers an enormous amount of control over time with fun taxes to boot.

        -No criminal charges for Wall Street
        I personally don’t want charges, I want public executions. But neither Bush 2 nor Mr. O would dare bite one of the hands that feed them.

        This is an old Communist party, er Democratic party, strategy… simply buy people’s votes with their own money. I believe LBJ was the one who shined the path of buying and holding voting blocks with endless gov’t welfare with his “Great Society” programs (look it up, he was famously quoted with a slur). Now though its not just buying votes, its more complicated today. Now its buying people off in order to prolong insurrection due to the looting of this countries industry since about 1980, not to mention the slow unraveling of the Petrodollar cycle.

        This one’s easy, under a series of very bad fiscal policies, greed, and lack of oversight, a huge series of debts were created which could not be paid back by the vast majority of those who took them. This created a panic and smart/big money exited the market. The “solution” was to inflate the currency, exchange the bad debts to the Fed where they will disappear and will be replaced by new devalued currency to the megabanks who held the notes (look up more on the Fed, this bad debt exchange mechanism was one of the sole reasons for its original creation in lieu of the Panic of 1907). Not to mention the so called rally was necessary so YOUR 401K could come back from being very underwater, albeit it worth less in real terms.

        There are record weapon sales because the powers that be, regardless of party, want to disarm the populace and have for some time as they have done throughout the First world. Maybe its a clever ruse to create a small economic upturn by the WH, I’m not sure… and if it is my hat’s off to them but I won’t hold my breath. Even if the whole issue goes away, the administration was able to create an artificial shortage of weapons and ammunition, which may come in handy if there are societal problems in spring/summer 2013.

        Feel free to pick all of this apart, most of it is extemporaneous and I might not have the exact facts in some cases.

        My advice though for all is no matter what your stand is in politics, really start digging into what the frack has been going on these past few years.

      • 0 avatar

        alluster & 28 cars, I’m sorry about the delayed reply but my time behind the keyboard during the day is pretty much dictated by waiting for email replies, order acceptance and price and availability quotes for the stuff I ordered for my wife’s dad and his houses.

        Once I get all of what I need, I’m out of here.

        So, I was not ignoring you guys. I was just busy doing other things. Your comments receive a lot more serious a reply than I have time left for this late at night (for me), so my compliments and apologies. I’ve got to pick up my illegal alien workforce at 5:30am tomorrow morning to get started on a project.

        alluster, I’m sorry if I gave you the impression that I troll, especially since there are so few topics I actually feel motivated to comment on. Otherwise, I do read all of the comments on a thread that interests me.

        They’re converting from copper to fiber in my area so I also have to contend with incessant resets and dropped internet connections during the day. No joy at all!

        For next several days I’ll be laying about 3600 sq ft of ceramic tile at one of the newly acquired foreclosed homes just purchased by my wife’s dad, so I won’t be able to enjoy perusing ttac articles, or reading the comments.

        Your comments deserve a much better retort that I can give at this time, but I believe that how well Obama and his policies have worked for someone like you or me, will directly influence how effective each of us think Obama has been.

        In my case, I was better off during Clinton and both Bush the Elder and Bush the Younger. So, Obama hasn’t worked for me but that is because I am not poor or on welfare or on food stamps or in need of a handout.

        Although I am not employed I do manage to be very industrious during my waking hours, not relying on what the government can do for me. Instead, I am focused on what I can do for me and mine.

        Which is exactly what I will be doing for the next couple of days, at least through the weekend.

        So, although I may not always agree with you, I enjoy reading your comments. ’til next time.

  • avatar

    While it’s never wise to reward failure, I sure hope Antonio Villaraigosa is selected for this role. It would get him out of CA, something he clearly wants to do based on the number of hours he spent out of town as mayor, but it will also hopefully show the fake that he is.

    This is the man who failed the CA Bar four times and settled on becoming a politician. The man who the ultra liberal newspaper LA Weekly called the “11% mayor” based on the amount of time he handled city business. The man who LA Magazine did a cover story on in 2009 with the headline “Failure”. The man who was slapped with the largest ethics fine in city history. The man who, in a very public way, cheated on his wife with a Telemundo reporter, and eventually filed for divorce.

    Yes, please, get him out of here.

    • 0 avatar

      With all due respect, what makes you think that we want him?

      • 0 avatar

        NTSB Chair Debbie Hersman is the only person even remotely qualified to lead DOT.

        The question is, “would she accept if asked?”

        In accepting the job she would have to institute the far left liberal Democrat Obama agenda that can only result in higher taxation, mandated fuel economy standards, implementation of onboard monitoring systems in all vehicles, smaller engines and higher cost of all vehicles.

        That doesn’t sound like that would help the poor any, but it would cost the working folks a lot more money to drive. Then again, the agenda is to reduce cars on the road and increase public transportation.

    • 0 avatar

      NTSB Chair Debbie Hersman would be my nomination. IMO, she’s the only one even remotely qualified to lead the DOT.

      The question then becomes, would she accept!? Because as head of the DOT, she would have to institute and put in place the far left liberal Democrat policies of Obama. Ray LaHood was onboard, and even carried the watter for the fight to discredit Toyota.

      You’ve gotta be a believer in Obama in order to take away people’s rights, which invariably they will, by implementing all sorts of unpopular edicts, taxes and mandates and diminishing a person’s freedoms.

      And the next four years will see many limitations and mandates imposed on individuals and corporations alike, all in the name of “the people”.

      Obamacare didn’t work out so well for everyone who has to pay for it. I’m not sure that raising fuel economy standards, limiting engine availability, imposing mandated interval recorders aboard every new vehicle (Big Brother is watching you drive), among the many prospective mandates on the Democrat agenda, will work well for the majority.

      We already know how well ethanol worked out, and MTBE. And with the anticipated mandates of the Obama doctrine for America we’ll see the cost of cars only go up and up, effectively shutting out the lower income Americans from even being able to afford a car.

      Ahhh yes, of course there’s public transportation to reduce emissions, eh? And a High Speed Rail System for California! Wow! Imagine all those Californians just chomping at the bit get out of their cars and jump aboard that High Speed rail.

  • avatar

    Speaking as a Washingtonian, you don`t want Gergoire. An old-time liberal, she loaded the State`s budget with expensive social programs and then could not deal with the recession. One of her last acts as Governor was a transportation plan in the billions, lacking anyway to pay for it.

  • avatar

    “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.”

    Ok so despite any previous failure of the named candidates we have:

    City Mayor
    NTSB Boss
    US Rep on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee
    State governor
    State governor

    It sounds like there are only two of the candidates on this list of five with any experience in “transportation”. So I realize politics is disgusting but logically (1) the other three should just be dropped from consideration and (2) how is it NOT racist/sexist/ageist/whatever-ist to select one of the candidates without relevant experience vs the two who apparently do?

    Its akin to putting the Dalai Lama and the head of the Peace Corps on the short list for Secretary of Defense.

  • avatar

    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.

  • avatar

    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.

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