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What Does The Election Mean For Biking?

The parlor games began before all the votes were even counted. Who will be the Secretary of Transportation in President Obama’s second term? Will leadership of Congressional committees that decide the fate of bicycling change hands — and to who? What would these elections mean for transportation and for bicycling and walking specifically?

Well, here’s some of what we’re hearing…

Secretary of Transportation: This one has been simmering for a while. Current Secretary Ray LaHood, an outspoken supporter of bicycling and walking, said back in October 2011 that he wouldn’t serve a second term if the President was reelected. That comment took the president by surprise and LaHood has since backed off a bit, saying he owed it to the president “to sit down and talk after the election and see where it takes us.” We’ll just have to wait and see what he decides. Possible replacements include big city mayors like Los Angeles’ Antonio Villaraigosa and New York City’s Michael Bloomberg, as well as infrastructure champion Ed Rendell, former Governor of Pennsylvania. One also can’t help but notice that Ohio Representative Steven LaTourette’s retirement from Congress makes him available for the job. This would keep a Republican, not to mention a friend to bicycling, in the cabinet as Secretary of Transportation.

UPDATE: Governing Magazine lays outs an extensive list of candidates for Secretary. Streetsblog DC gives you a chance to vote for your choice.

Environment and Public Works  (EPW) Committee Chair: As chair of the EPW committee, California Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) has been one of the most influential voices on transportation policy. Many of you in the state probably sent her advocacy alerts over the past two years. As important as that role is, Senator Boxer is next in line for chair of the prestigious Foreign Relations Committee. Will the chairmanship become available? That depends. If Secretary of State Hilary Clinton steps down as expected, Obama will have to appoint a new one. A leading candidate for that position is Senator John Kerry (D-MA), the current chair of Foreign Relations. Kerry’s appointment would allow Boxer to lead the Foreign Relations Committee and open up the EPW chairmanship to Max Baucus of Montana (who leads the Finance Committee), Delaware’s Tom Carper (who could also chair the Homeland Security Committee), or Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey.

Environment and Public Works Committee Ranking Member: The ranking member of EPW is one of the most important voices in shaping policy. According to Republican rules, Republican ranking members must give up their leadership seat when they hit their term limit. As a result, Senator Jim Inhofe (R-OK), the current ranking member of the Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW), who infamously called bike trails frivolous, may become ranking member of the Armed Services Committee instead. That would likely leave Senator David Vitter (R-LA) to become ranking member. Senator Vitter may be less hostile to bicycling — time will tell. EPW staffing changes could also bring fresh perspectives. For example, the idea for the mandatory sidepath law came from an EPW staffer.

In other news…

  • Congress lost several supportive voices. Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown, a Republican co-sponsor of the Cardin-Cochran Amendment, lost his seat. Three Republicans who strongly supported transit funding – Representatives Dold (R-IL), Biggert (R- IL) and Bass (R-NH) – also lost their seats.
  • Rep. Chip Cravaak of Minnesota, the Republican who unseated longstanding bike champion James Oberstar, was defeated. Meanwhile, Tim Bishop (D-NY), a member of the important Transportation and Infrastructure Committee T&I and a co-sponsor of Complete Streets legislation, kept his seat in a tight race.

Overall, we shouldn’t see a lot of changes in transportation policy as a result of this election. The majority party remains the same in the Senate and House. The president returns to the White House. Options for raising transportation revenue remain elusive.


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