With the resignation of U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, former Minnesota congressman Jim Oberstar, aka “Mr. Transportation,” is being mentioned frequently in Washington parlor chatter about a successor.
"If the administration is interested, and asks me, I will gladly serve," Oberstar said Tuesday. "I thoroughly enjoyed the legislative side of policy during my time in Congress ... carrying out policy as a cabinet member would also be an exciting opportunity."
Oberstar has not talked to White House staff or President Obama about the job and doesn't plan to mount a campaign for the job, but he has contributed to the speculation by touting his credentials recently to Politico. The former chairman of the House Transportation Committee said he would expect to be considered on the strength of his long transportation resume and record of bipartisanship on transportation projects.
But, as almost every commentator in the commentariat has noted, Oberstar would add nothing to the race or gender diversity of President Obama’s cabinet, unless the White House is looking for a French-speaking Iron Ranger.
Taking that into consideration, Oberstar speculated that Debbie Hersman, chair of the National Transportation Safety Board, and former Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm are likley the top candidates for the job.
Another potential obstacle would be Oberstar’s well-publicized spat with the White House over the $500 billion price tag of his doomed House transportation bill, as well as his openness to raising the federal gas tax to fund it.
On the plus side, Oberstar knows his way around Capitol Hill, and he could be an effective liaison to the House and the Senate. Oberstar praised LaHood's work, saying he "set a very high standard." LaHood worked diligently to raise awareness about transporation safety, including the dangers of distracted driving, Oberstar said.
Washington lobbyist Dennis McGrann, who represents many Minnesota counties and cities, said whatever Oberstar’s chances, he would be a good pick for the state
“From our perspective, we’d love to have a Minnesotan in that position,” he said. “He would be an asset.”