by Keith Laing, The Hill Newspaper
Speculation on Ray LaHood’s replacement as President Obama’s Transportation secretary is focusing on a group of former transportation officials and 2012 presidential campaign surrogates — including Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa (D) and former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D).
White House officials have been tight-lipped about the Department of Transportation’s future. The administration did not even confirm LaHood’s departure — although it was widely expected — until he announced it on Tuesday.
But that has not stopped the rumor mill from churning about possible successors.
Villaraigosa has been at the top of the list. He has been the focus of DOT speculation since he played a visible role in pushing Congress to approve a $105 billion surface transportation bill last year in his role as then-president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said last week that Villaraigosa would make a “terrific” replacement for LaHood.
“I think he’d be terrific at it,” Boxer said of the mayor of California’s largest city. “No one has asked my opinion, but I think he would make a very fine secretary of Transportation.”
Villaraigosa was also the chairman of the 2012 Democratic National Convention.
Other candidates who have inspired chatter in Washington include former House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Jim Oberstar (D-Minn.) and former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell (D), who has been running an infrastructure investment advocacy group he co-founded called Building America’s Future.
President Obama has come under fire in recent days for a lack of diversity in his early picks for Cabinet posts in his second term. Obama’s appointments for the secretaries of State, Defense and Treasury and head of the CIA are all white men.
If he looks to change that narrative with the selection of a woman for Transportation secretary, a pair of former female governors who were surrogates for his 2012 reelection campaign — Granholm and former Washington state Gov. Christine Gregoire (D) — have also been mentioned as potential DOT contenders.
Gregoire left office this month after two terms. She is a former chairwoman of the National Governors Association and her state is home to one of the biggest aviation companies in the world, Boeing, which is at the center of DOT’s attention right now because of problems with its 787 Dreamliner airplane.
Gregoire is also being mentioned as a possible pick for administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Meanwhile, Granholm is a former two-term governor of the state that is home to the American auto industry. She recently ended her Current TV show, and she gave a fiery speech at the Democratic Party’s convention touting the bailout of the auto industry that has been viewed 86,000 times on YouTube.
Another woman often mentioned as a possible DOT contender is National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Chairwoman Deborah Hersman.
The NTSB chief, who was profiled by The Hill in 2011, was reappointed to a second term atop the transportation safety agency by Obama in 2011. Hersman has said she is focused on her current job, but she worked on Capitol Hill on transportation committees until her initial appointment to the NTSB in 2004.
The Transportation secretary position has often been a place where presidents tap members of the opposite party to show their bipartisanship, as was the case when Obama picked LaHood. The gregarious former congressman held an Illinois House seat for 14 years.
Similarly, former President George W. Bush’s first choice for Transportation secretary was a former Democratic member of Congress from California, Norm Mineta.
If Obama attempts to give a nod to the old adage that there are no Democratic or Republican roads, former Rep. Steven LaTourette (R-Ohio) is another possibility.
LaTourette was one of Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) closest lieutenants, but he was also a centrist who bucked conservative members of his party on fights over Amtrak funding and road and transit appropriations. LaTourette was a member of the House Appropriations subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development.
Former Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) has also been mentioned by some transportation observers as potential contender, but Hutchinson has reportedly said she would not consider serving in Obama’s administration.
Hutchison is a former ranking member of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and she was a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee’s Transportation, Housing and Urban Development subcommittee.
Both LaTourette and Hutchison were considered to be potential Transportation secretary picks for Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney if he had won the 2012 election.