Looking under LaHood
Many advocates worry that Transportation Secretary nominee Ray LaHood doesn't understand the link between transportation and climate change, and that perhaps Obama doesn't either.
Photo from Jason Broehm.
"Obama still hasn't made the transportation - land use - climate connection," Petra Todorovich, director of Regional Plan Association's America 2050 program said. "It's clear he's thinking about these things in separate categories." For Todorovich and other advocates, the LaHood pick was the second shoe to drop this week. The first piece of bad news arrived on Monday when Obama trotted out his "green dream team," his appointments to key environmental, energy and climate posts, and the transportation secretary was nowhere to be found. ...Matt Yglesias ponders that perhaps expectations for an amazing Secretary of Transportation were unreasonably high:
Said a former Federal Transit Administration official, "He's got a horrible environmental record, he's bad on climate change and he's Caterpillar's bag man. Can we get a worse appointment?" Many feel that former F.A.A. chief Jane Garvey would have been the better choice.
A lot of this comes down to the expectations game. If you put LaHood side-by-side with Frederico Pena or Rodney Slater, I see a guy who seems at least as good as the appointees we got from the last Democratic president but who also has ties to the Hill that could be useful and fills a slot as a Republican. If you put LaHood side-by-side with my ideal vision of a committed urbanist and transportation reformer like Janette Sadik-Khan, LaHood looks terrible.And Obama mentioned both mass transit and (recreational) bicycling in his speech introducing LaHood:
Throughout his career, Ray has fought to improve mass transit and invest in our highways. But he has not only helped rebuild our landscape, he has helped beautify it by creating opportunities for bikers and runners to enjoy our great outdoors. When I began this appointment process, I said I was committed to finding the best person for the job, regardless of party. Ray's appointment reflects that bipartisan spiritIn acceepting the nomination, LaHood addeed, "As a nation, we need to continue to be the world leader in infrastructure development, Amtrak, mass transit, light rail, air travel, and our roads and bridges all play a vital role in our economy and our well-being as a nation." On the other hand, he later called the federal transportation spending bill the "Highway Bill":
— a spirit we need to reclaim in this country to make progress for the American people.
A hallmark of my career has been my work with our local and state leaders as we have improved the infrastructure of Illinois. I've served on the House Transportation and infrastructure committee as we reauthorize the Federal Highway Bill. I understand first hand what good infrastructure and transportation means to communities, and understand it is the local folks who know best their transportation needs. We'll bring that same approach to the Department of Transportation.The bill mostly has funded highways in the past, but advocates hope to push for a much more progressive bill in 2009. Calling it the "Highway Bill" is already framing the issue in completely the wrong way.
On a broader note, a lot of commentators are playing up this narrative about "Obama supporters feeling betrayed." Obama will do some good things, and some bad things. Any President would have. During the election, the task was to decide if we liked Obama or not. Now, the task is to persuade him and his staff, through advocacy, education, criticism and praise, to do the right thing. We should neither blindly accept anything Obama does, nor write him off in a fit of pique. He's a politician, and we must treat him like one, for better and worse.
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