When I reported from the Republican National Convention this summer on conservatives who see the light on mass transit and greater density, I didn't expect that Barack Obama would end up appointing a Republican secretary of transportation. But as several outlets are reporting, that's exactly what Obama has done, tapping GOP Congressman Ray LaHood , who represents part of central and western Illinois, including the mid-size city of Peoria.

Adam Doster has a good run-down of LaHood's record at Progress Illinois. LaHood has bucked his party's line by supporting increased funding for Amtrak, and he voted this year for the Saving Energy Through Public Transportation Act. But LaHood has no record of leadership on transit and, suffice to say, advocates are disappointed. They were hoping for more of a fire-breather in this position. Look for them to begin pushing for the appointment of a big city public transit czar (such as Janette Sadik-Khan) to head the Federal Transit Authority, the DOT agency with jurisdiction over mass transit.

If there's any upside to the LaHood appointment, it is that if he does become a strong advocate for public transit, it could neutralize the issue politically, and help scrub it clean of the veneer of "urban elitism." After all, there's nothing elitist about infrastructure policies that create jobs while protecting the environment and making it easier for people to go about their daily business.

--Dana Goldstein

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