The turnover in Barack Obama’s first-term Cabinet continued today with the departure of Ray LaHood as Transportation Secretary. While the decision was announced today, LaHood told the Associated Press that he made the decision immediately after Obama’s re-election victory in November:
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, the only Republican still in President Barack Obama’s first-term Cabinet, said Tuesday he plans to leave the administration. His move continues an exodus that will give Obama’s team a new look in his second term. …
LaHood said in an interview with The Associated Press that he told Obama a week after the November election that he needed to move on but said he was still “conflicted” by his decision because he liked working for Obama and considered it the “best job I’ve ever had in public service.”
LaHood’s Republican affiliation got a lot of mention during the first term, but it was in scant evidence otherwise. Just a few of LaHood’s Greatest Hits:
- DOT Secretary LaHood: California’s high-speed rail approval is “terrific news”
- LaHood: Golly, I envy the Chinese government
- Democrats still trying to push new mileage tax
- LaHood goes under the bus on mileage tax
- Obama administration scare-mongering on airplane safety
In other words, few Republicans will feel real nostalgia at his exit. Now, the question will be what direction Obama goes in nominating a replacement. For the last three presidential terms, the Transportation slot has been allocated as a bipartisan position; Democrat Norm Mineta held the post for George W. Bush. With Obama ready to make a sharp left turn in the second term, we can probably expect that short tradition to come to an end.
The Associated Press offers a few possibilities for a replacement, none of whom are Republicans:
Possible replacements for LaHood include Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who has pushed for increased rail service in Los Angeles and served as chairman of last year’s Democratic National Convention, and Debbie Hersman, the chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board. The name of former Rep. Jim Oberstar of Minnesota, who led the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, has also been mentioned.
Oberstar will be 79 years old this year, so he’s an unlikely choice. With Obama under fire for nominating only white men for his open Cabinet positions so far, Oberstar’s unlikely on several levels. Villaraigosa might make more sense, especially after his profile-raising appearance at the Democratic convention last summer, and perhaps especially after the departure of the only high-ranking Latinos among Obama’s advisers this month, Ken Salazar and Hilda Solis. Hispanic activists have already chafed at the lack of interest in their binders full of candidates, and Obama’s efforts on immigration reform aren’t likely to make them forget about the appointment opportunities that have already passed by.
If it’s Villaraigosa, expect an even bigger push for high-speed rail funding, especially for California’s ridiculously expensive and unnecessary San Andreas fault line project. And don’t expect that to be the end of diversity complaints about the second-term Cabinet, either.