LaHood Out At DOT, But Is There Hope For A Qualified Transportation Secretary?

After months of confusing double-talk on whether or not he would stay on in a second Obama term, Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood announced he would be resigning once a successor is selected. I’ve expressed in the past my distaste for LaHood’s management, noting that he lacked the qualifications one would like to see in a transportation secretary.

Aping George W. Bush’s selection of Democrat Norman Mineta, President Obama appointed Republican LaHood as transportation secretary. Unfortunately, unlike Mineta — who had a fairly strong transportation policy background in Congress (where he chaired the House Transportation Committee and spearheaded the first post-Interstate highway bill) and the private sector — LaHood’s only transportation experience was a five-year term on the House Transportation Committee. Before leaving Congress, LaHood was best known as a major pork-barrel spender, which if anything made him even less qualified for the top DOT spot during the post-earmark Congress.

LaHood is a big spender at heart, and not much else, which is why it should not be surprising that his four-year term as head of the Department of Transportation was marked by absurdly wasteful programming, such as the TIGER “livability” grants, increased passenger rail subsidies, and a “distracted driving” sideshow. Secretary LaHood and the Obama administration were out to lunch for the most significant transportation policy battle during his term, the reauthorization of surface transportation law. After the Obama administration came out with a transportation policy proposal completely lacking in seriousness, Congress ended up crafting and passing the MAP-21 highway bill, which did nothing to resolve the structural problems facing federal surface transportation policy.

While “Good riddance!” was my first reaction to LaHood’s resignation announcement, the most likely successor — professional political climber and current L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa — is even less qualified for the job. But picking Villaraigosa would continue President Obama’s general ignorance and acquiescence to clueless special-interest activists on matters of transportation policy. It is just a sad fact that slick, photo-op politics trump sensible policies in the Obama administration.

ADDENDUM: Villaraigosa has taken himself out of the running.