By Ashley Halsey III
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 30, 2010
There is a pause to ponder in almost every interview, a hiccup in the stream of words, a groping for just the right phrase, and then it emerges: "With Ray, what you see is what you get."
Photo Courtesy of the New York Times - by Christian Oth
He has worked for three decades in Washington, capital of spin, of parsing, of nuance, of cunning, of backstabbing intrigue, where half-truths are too common to refute and many a flat-out lie goes without rebuke.
Amid all of that, Ray LaHood, the most out-there secretary of transportation in history, is that rare mammal in modern Washington: a regular guy. He says what he thinks, does what he says and clearly loves what he's doing.
Were he 34 instead of 64, he'd be pegged as an overachiever bubbling with ambition to catapult himself onto the national ticket. But these days he has more grandchildren than political ambition, and his politics -- conservative but pragmatic, savvy but civil -- aren't fashionable in the polarized savagery of the national debate.
So how did LaHood transform what Jon Stewart on "The Daily Show" called the "least glamorous" Cabinet position into hobnobbing with Jordin Sparks and Oprah Winfrey?
"Lookit," he says with a shrug, "the president asked me to do a job, so I'm doing it."
Doing the job has meant globe-trotting to check out trains in China and Toyotas in Japan and to have meetings in Moscow. At home there are just two kinds of states: those where he's been to spread his gospel of safety and to inspect transportation systems, and those states that he plans to visit soon.
But his public face plays most frequently against a backdrop of Washington: The Potomac is his setting to denounce drunken driving; there he is outside a D.C. police station to plead for safe holiday-season driving; he's surrounded by local cops while pushing the "click-it-or-ticket" campaign; he's joining high school students in Union Station who pledge not to text behind the wheel; and he's standing on a table at a Capitol Hill gathering of cyclists to emphasize that federal transportation policy now includes pedal pushers.
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Questions and answers from the New York Times with La Hood here.