Raymond H. “Ray” LaHood (born December 6, 1945) is an American politician who served as United States Secretary of Transportation from 2009 until 2013. A Republican from Illinois, LaHood represented Illinois’s 18th congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 2009.
Early life and education
LaHood was born in Peoria, Illinois, to Edward M. LaHood, a Lebanese American who managed a restaurant, and Mary A. LaHood (née Vogel), who was of German ancestry. In 2006, he was one of four Arab-American members of Congress.
He graduated from Spalding Institute (now Peoria Notre Dame High School), worked his way through Canton Junior Collegeand Bradley University in Peoria, earning a Bachelor of Science in education and sociology in 1971.
Following graduation, he taught middle school social studies at public and Catholic schools, and has said that “teaching kids … about the constitution and government” stirred his interest in politics.
LaHood was director of the Rock Island County Youth Services Bureau and then district administrative assistant for U.S. congressman Tom Railsback, a Moline, Illinois Republican, from 1977 to 1982. He was appointed in 1982 to fill a vacant seat in the Illinois House of Representatives, serving for nine months, and running for the seat in November 1982, but losing to Democrat Bob DeJaegher. LaHood then became administrative assistant and ultimately the chief of staff to U.S. House minority leader Robert Michel, serving from 1982 until 1994.
When Michel announced his retirement in 1994, LaHood ran for and won his seat in the House, representing Illinois’s 18th congressional district. LaHood was one of only three Republicans elected to the House that year who did not sign on to theContract with America, Newt Gingrich‘s manifesto for a Republican majority, and was a member of the moderate Republican Main Street Partnership. In 1997, in an effort to promote bipartisan cooperation, LaHood organized bipartisan retreats for members of Congress.
During his service in Congress, he became well-known among C-SPAN viewers as the presiding officer of more debates than any other member. Most notably, in 1998 he presided over the contentious debate over the impeachment of President Bill Clinton.
A strong advocate for preserving the legacy of Abraham Lincoln, LaHood authored a law that established the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission, which laid the groundwork for celebrating the 16th President’s 200th birthday in 2009. He has also been a lead Capitol Hill supporter for the Lincoln Presidential Library in Springfield, Illinois, and is one of 15 members on the ALBC.
LaHood served on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee from 1995 until 2000, the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence beginning in 1998, and the House Appropriations Committee beginning in 2000. In 2005 he voted against renewing the PATRIOT Act, saying he opposed extending its intrusive police powers.
LaHood was said to be considering a challenge to Governor Rod Blagojevich‘s re-election bid in 2006, but chose to run for another term in Congress instead. He won the 2006 race against Steve Waterworth by a margin of 147,108 (67%) to 71,106 (33%). On July 26, 2007, LaHood stated he would not seek re-election in 2008.
In August 2007, LaHood received a 0% rating from the fiscally conservative 501(c)4 organization Club for Growth 2007 RePORK Card. He received an 11% rating from the conservative lobbying group Citizens Against Government Waste in August 2007, and holds a lifetime 49% rating from the group.
During the 2008 presidential election, LaHood supported John McCain, but criticized the rallies being held by McCain’s vice presidential nominee, Sarah Palin, saying she should put a stop to the name calling, and that the tactic could backfire. “This doesn’t befit the office that she’s running for. And frankly, people don’t like it,” he said.
Secretary of Transportation
On December 19, 2008, President-elect Barack Obama announced that he would nominate LaHood to be the next Transportation Secretary. LaHood’s résumé on transport matters was considered thin by some critics, including the Wall Street Journal despite the fact that he served on theHouse Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. As a member of the House Appropriations Committee he won praise for his “skills as an arbiter” in being able to bridge sometimes bitter partisan divides in the Congress, something the position would require. Some critics alleged a reputation for pork barrel spending, including in support of campaign contributors. The Washington Post reported that of the $60 million in earmarksLaHood secured for his district in 2008, $9 million went to campaign donors.
On February 3, 2010, LaHood was criticized for advice he was asked to give while testifying before a congressional committee regarding Toyota’srecall of 2.3 million vehicles due to sudden acceleration, wherein he suggested Toyota owners stop driving their cars. LaHood qualified his statement within an hour and a half of his testimony, spelling out that he meant “owners of any recalled Toyota models (should) contact their local dealer and get their vehicles fixed as soon as possible.”
LaHood is a supporter of airline passenger rights to facilities, food and water during lengthy on-aircraft delays. He is also a strong proponent of high-speed rail, saying “This is what the American people want. If you build it, they will come.”
On December 6, 2011, LaHood accepted the resignation of FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt, who was charged with drunk driving near his Washington home. In February 2013 LaHood lamented the amount of infrastructure spending that was approved by Congress during his tenure at the Department of Transportation. “America is one big pothole right now,” LaHood said in an interview on “The Diane Rehm Show” on National Public Radio. He went on to mention that Congress passed a $105 billion surface transportation bill last year, but he lamented the fact that the measure only provided appropriations for road and transit projects until 2014. “Congress passed a two-year bill. Ordinarily they would pass a five year bill,” he said. “It was only a two-year bill because they couldn’t find enough money to fund a five-year bill.”
On January 29, 2013, LaHood announced he would resign as the Secretary of the Department of Transportation upon the confirmation of his successor by the United States Senate. President Obama nominated Anthony Foxx, the incumbent mayor of Charlotte, North Carolina, to succeed LaHood. Foxx was subsequently confirmed by the U.S. Senate and was sworn into the position on July 2, 2013.
In May 2013, Illinois State Representative Jehan Gordon-Booth, who, like LaHood did in the U.S. Congress, represents a central Illinois district, introduced legislation in the Illinois House of Representatives Rules Committee (House Joint Resolution 35) that, if passed by the state House and Senate and signed by Governor Pat Quinn, would rename a 6-mile stretch of Interstate 74 from the Murray Baker Bridge (over the Illinois River between Tazewell and Peoria Counties) to the Sterling Avenue exit as the Ray LaHood Highway. That section corresponds to much of what was contained in the major multi-year revision that was the Upgrade 74 project in the last decade (the 2000s) that LaHood had backed in the later years of his tenure in the U.S. House.
Also that month, in recognition of his Congressional and Cabinet service as he neared his last days in office, a portrait of him (with a bust of Abraham Lincoln‘s head in the background—LaHood had represented his 18th Illinois Congressional District and named the headquarters of his agency after him) by Simmie Knox. The portrait was unveiled and dedicated at the Abraham Lincoln U.S. Department of Transportation Building in the presence of LaHood’s family, U.S. Merchant Marines, Shaun Donovan(Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development), and Janet Napolitano (Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security), as well as his predecessor in Congress in Illinois’s 18th District, former U.S. House Minority Leader Robert Michel.
LaHood’s congressional seat, Illinois’s 18th congressional district, has been Republican since 1939.
|1994||G. Douglas Stephens||78,332||39%||Ray LaHood||119,838||60%||*|
|1996||Mike Curran||98,413||41%||Ray LaHood||143,110||59%|
|1998||(no candidate)||Ray LaHood||158,175||100%||*|
|2000||Joyce Harant||85,317||33%||Ray LaHood||173,706||67%|
|2002||(no candidate)||Ray LaHood||192,567||100%|
|2004||Steve Waterworth||91,548||30%||Ray LaHood||216,047||70%|
|2006||Steve Waterworth||73,052||33%||Ray LaHood||150,194||67%|
* Write-in and minor candidate notes: In 1994, write-ins received 955 votes. In 1998, write-ins received 2 votes.
LaHood did not to seek re-election in 2008, and Barack Obama nominated him to be U.S. Secretary of Transportation. Illinois State Representative Aaron Schock of Peoria won the seat for the Republicans in the 2008 election.
On January 21, 2012, LaHood’s son, Sam LaHood, was detained by the Egyptian government and not allowed to leave the country as part of a politically charged criminal investigation by the Egyptian government into the activities of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) monitoring local elections in Egypt. LaHood’s son is the Egypt director of the International Republican Institute. The Egyptian government detained twelve NGO representatives from leaving Egypt.
On February 5, 2012, Egyptian authorities charged LaHood’s son and 42 other individuals with “spending money from organizations that were operating in Egypt without a license.” Nineteen Americans were part of the 42 charged. The U.S. government said that $1.5 billion in U.S. aid to Egypt could be withheld if the investigation was not finished quickly. Faiza Abu Naga, Egypt’s Minister of International Cooperation, was seen as the person pushing the investigation forward. Sam LaHood left Egypt along with several foreign NGO workers on March 1, 2012.
Sam LaHood was tried in absentia by an Egyptian criminal court, and convicted of operating without a license and receiving foreign funding. LaHood was given a five-year jail term and fined 1,000 Egyptian pounds ($143).
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