No one will be happy to see Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood exit public life, but he isn't going away for a quite a while. Last week, the personable moderate Republican from Illinois said he would step down from the White House transportation post at the end of President Obama's first term and would not seek another public office. LaHood has flourished in the Obama administration while his own party has clashed with the White House over just about everything.
A lot can happen between now and the end of Obama's term. As it stands now, Congress is supposed to pass authorization bills for aviation and surface transportation in early 2012. Whether that actually happens remains to be seen, but LaHood will remain a pivotal figure in those conversations. LaHood also is one of the administration's most powerful advocates for infrastructure investment. He has spent much of his time in recent weeks calling on Congress to approve $50 billion for immediate investment in roads and bridges and another $10 billion for an infrastructure bank that would leverage private dollars for large transportation projects. Pleas with Congress are difficult, as the former House member LaHood knows. But he doesn't need Congress for one of his personal pet projects---hounding people to stop using cell phones while driving. The distracted driving campaign has garnered him praise from transportation and safety advocates alike.
We have one more year with LaHood. What can be accomplished in that time? How can LaHood be most effective in the surface transportation and aviation reauthorization conversations? Can LaHood use his connections with Republicans on Capitol Hill to broker a compromise with Democrats? What can the Transportation Department do on its own? If you could have one wish granted by the transportation secretary before he leaves his job, what would it be?