Thanking Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood For His Service to America and Illinois

As Prepared for Delivery

When President Obama was elected four years ago, I urged him to appoint Ray LaHood to be America’s Secretary of Transportation.  I was confident that Ray would serve our nation with the same integrity and inexhaustible energy he had shown while serving his Congressional district in central Illinois.


As Secretary LaHood prepares to leave his cabinet post, I am pleased but not a bit surprised to say that I was right.


Ray LaHood is a proud Republican.  Yet, when President Obama asked him -- during the worst economic crisis in generations -- to oversee America's transportation policy, to help create the transportation networks of the future and help Americans get back to work, he said yes.  He chose patriotism over partisan politics.


Anytime I spoke to the President or Vice President about transportation, they invariably said, “We’ll talk to Ray. He’s the best and we know he will take care of it.”


The President couldn’t find anyone better to carry out his transportation vision for America.


I believe history will record that Ray LaHood was one of America's most important transportation secretaries.


He helped put millions of Americans back to work with the $48 billion in transportation funding included in the Recovery Act.


He oversaw the creation of the nation’s first high speed rail program.


He helped create the TIGER grant program – a $2.7 billion investment in America’s future that has built some of the nation’s most significant transportation projects.


Ray LaHood helped save lives improving our national aviation system.


He conducted a “rampage” – his word -- against “distracted driving” – driving while texting or talking on a cell phone.


He travelled more widely and more frequently than many professional pilots.


As a Washington Post reporter wrote a while back:  “There are just two kinds of states:  States where [Ray LaHood has] been to spread his gospel of safety and to inspect transportation systems and those states that he plans to visit soon.”


The people of Illinois are grateful to Ray not only for his four historic years as Transportation Secretary but also for his decades of service to our state as a leader in Congress.


Ray was born and raised in Peoria, Illinois, and he has always stayed true to his Midwestern values.


He started his public service as a teacher.


He cut his political teeth working as a top aide for Congressman Tom Railsback and, later, House Minority Leader Bob Michel.


In 1994 Ray was elected to succeed Bob Michel as US Representative from Illinois' 18th Congressional District.


The 18th Congressional District stretches from Ray’s hometown of Peoria south through rich farm country to Illinois’ state capitol and my hometown of Springfield.


The district has a history of producing outstanding leaders.  In addition to Bob Michel, Illinois' 18th District also gave America Everett Dirksen and a one-term 19th century Congressman by the name of Abraham Lincoln.


Ray is also a great student of history.   He inspired a great effort to create the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission.  He and I went on to serve as co-chairs on that commission, which led a national observation of President's Lincoln’s 200th birthday in 2009.


Ray’s work helped students everywhere learn a little more about one of our greatest Presidents and one of the most important periods of our nation’s history.


Like his famous predecessors, Ray LaHood has raised the standard for greater civility and cooperation in Congress.  He founded the Congressional Bipartisan Retreat to help Members and their families get to know each other outside of the rough and tumble debates on the House floor.


Back in Illinois, Ray regularly convened bipartisan meetings with the area's state representatives, mayors and other elected officials.


His dedication to his District and his service in the House earned him a reputation as one of the most respected Members of the House.


When President Obama nominated Ray for Transportation Secretary – all of us in Illinois knew the President had chosen the right man for the job.


Ray’s legacy here in D.C. will be substantial, but his legacy will be even greater back home in Illinois.


He has helped protect and build Illinois during his tenure at the Department of Transportation.


The O’Hare Modernization Project was close to failing -- until Secretary LaHood stepped in and brought the parties together to keep the nation’s largest airport expansion project on track.


Secretary LaHood helped bring high speed rail to Illinois.  Last fall, we rode the first 110mph train between Chicago and St. Louis.


Secretary LaHood helped build a beautiful new terminal at Peoria International Airport.


Secretary LaHood’s dedication to Illinois will be felt in every corner of Illinois for generations to come.  People will be able to travel across our state faster and more safely because of his work.


We will bring new businesses and jobs to Illinois because of the improved transportation network Secretary LaHood helped build.


Ray LaHood is a leader with integrity and character.


He is also a good friend.  I will miss him and all of Illinois will miss having such a leader at the Department of Transportation.


That Washington Post article I mentioned contained a wonderful line.  The reporter wrote:  “Perhaps the most telling tidbit in LaHood’s life is that he has resided in Washington for 30 years without once getting a haircut here.  A man truly lives where he gets his hair cut, and that is in Peoria.”


As Ray LaHood prepares to leave the President’s Cabinet and spend more time with his family, I wish the best to him, his wife Kathy and their four children— Amy, Sam, Sara and State Senator Darin LaHood. 


And I look forward to working with Secretary LaHood’s very able successor, former Charlotte Mayor Anthony Fox, to maintain and improve America’s transportation systems and networks, the backbone of our economy.