University News

LaHood steers students toward public service

Senior Staff Writer
Thursday, March 1, 2012

Life in public service may not always be a path to prestige, but that should not deter Brown students from pursuing it, Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood told a full Salomon 101 Wednesday afternoon. As a moderate Republican serving in the Obama administration, LaHood has worked to reach across the aisle to forge compromise, said Marion Orr, professor of public policy and political science, in his introduction.

Discussing his decision to work in Obama’s cabinet, LaHood compared the president’s election to that of former President John F. Kennedy.

“In 1963, when I graduated from high school, President Kennedy inspired everyone that was college-age and perhaps even some high schoolers with the speeches that he gave with the call to service,” LaHood said. “I want you to know I’m a Republican — I think that’s been announced — but that call to service was not from a Democratic president. It was from a young, energetic public servant who gave his all, gave his life for his country, and I can’t overstate the power of that call. It was a summons that sparked something in everyone I knew, both Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, much like the call that president Obama used on election day.”

He said his relationship with Obama when both men were members of Congress was an impetus for his decision to join the Obama’s cabinet.

“The president has given me the opportunity and the privilege of overseeing the best transportation system in the world and fighting to put Americans back to work in a very bad economy,” LaHood said. As the secretary of transportation, LaHood has encountered workers  “back on the job” at plants operated by General Motors and Chrysler, met with the Navy Seal team responsible for finding Osama Bin Laden and appeared on Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show.

“Not everyone will hold high office,” LaHood said, though he added “everyone does have an obligation to make a contribution.” Scientists and businesspeople also have a responsibility to be good citizens, he said.

LaHood said he values education and hard work just as his parents and grandparents did before him, adding that his time as a social studies middle school teacher inspired him to go into politics. He is proud of his 35 years in public service, he said, from his time as a congressional staffer to his work as a member of Congress and as a Cabinet member.  

“You see what’s going on in Washington,” Lahood said. “America needs you.”

After the lecture, LaHood answered questions from students about his son’s detention in Egypt, the future of the Federal Highway Trust Fund, working in the Obama administration and urban mass transit in Detroit and Los Angeles.

The speech, entitled “The View from President Obama’s Cabinet,” was sponsored by the Taubman Center for Public Policy as this year’s Noah Krieger ’93 Memorial Lecture. Past Krieger lecturers have included New York Rep. Charles Rangel, Newark Mayor Cory Booker and United States Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg.

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