Obama transportation pick seen as ‘honest broker’

Republican Ray LaHood, picked by US president-elect Barack Obama as transportation secretary, is described by those who know him as a 'main street conservative'. Obama's choice came as a surprise to some who were expecting a more high-profile candidates like Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell or Minnesota representative Jim Oberstar.

Infrastructure and transportation professionals applauded US President-Elect Barack Obama’s appointment of Ray LaHood as Secretary of Transportation even as the appointment caught some by surprise.

Ray LaHood

Unlike Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell or Minnesota representative Jim Oberstar, LaHood, a Republican representative for central Illinois’ 18th congressional district since 1995, was not on the radar of many observers as a top pick to head the department. David Gribbin, the general counsel for the US Department of Transportation, did not include him on his shortlist of potential appointees for the post when speaking at the California Infrastructure Summit in Anaheim two weeks ago.

But despite his low national profile, people who have worked with LaHood note that he will bring to the post a number of skills that infrastructure investors will appreciate.

“One of the benefits of Ray is that he is an honest broker. He doesn’t come with a strong particular preference for one side over the other,” said Ted Van Der Meid, a counsel in the government affairs department of law firm McKenna Long & Aldridge. Van Der Meid worked with LaHood from 1989 to 1994 while LaHood was the district director and later chief of staff to Bob Michel, who represented the 18th congressional district at the time.

One of the benefits of Ray is that he is an honest broker.

Ted Van Der Meid

He cited LaHood's non-partisan nature as one potential reason why he was chosen to preside over former US President Bill Clinton’s impeachment vote in the House of Representatives.

Van Der Meid also described LaHood as a “main street conservative”, or someone who is interested in limited government but is flexible.

Van Der Meid said LaHood is well-versed on issues of transportation financing and is familiar with concepts such as public private partnerships.

Industry groups active in the transportation and infrastructure sectors also applauded LaHood’s appointment.

“He is a thoughtful, pragmatic and effective leader.  He also understands the mechanics of the federal highway, transit, rail and aviation programmes after having spent six years on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee”, Pete Ruane, president and chief executive officer of the American Road and Transportation Builders Association, said in a statement. 

“LaHood understands the tremendous job-generation power of transportation investment for construction workers, equipment and materials suppliers and many other related businesses,” according to John Horsley, executive director of the American Association of Highway Transportation, in a statement.

An Obama spokesperson declined to comment.

If confirmed by the Senate, LaHood will take over a government agency that has almost 60,000 employees and a $61.6 billion annual budget, according to the White House website.