As a rule, a new president's choice of a secretary of transportation makes few headlines, even when the appointee is a member of the opposition. In 2001,George W. Bush
decided to name as transportation secretary Norman Mineta
, a former representative from California, to be the token Democrat in his Cabinet, and no one noticed. And no one except forMark Shields
, who lavishly praised the appointment, paid much attention last week when Barack Obama
made Ray LaHood
, the retiring representative from Peoria, Ill., the second Republican in his Cabinet.
This one, however, is loaded with meaning because LaHood is no ordinary member of Congress. He has been, as Shields pointed out, one of the most widely respected members of the House; a leader in the uphill struggle for comity between the parties; and a throwback to the days of his old boss Bob Michel, the minority leader who resisted the scorched-earth tactics of Newt Gingrich
. Such was LaHood's reputation for fairness that he was the natural choice to preside over the House during the explosive impeachment proceedings against Bill Clinton
The significance of his accepting Obama's offer goes beyond the signal it sends of the new president's seriousness about outreach to moderate Republicans. As transportation secretary, LaHood will be at the center of the road and bridge construction projects Obama plans to make the highlight of his almost trillion-dollar stimulus program.