Ray LaHood, Back Home in Illinois, Still Active in National Politics

Mike Magner
August 22, 2013

Former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has two new gigs in his home state of Illinois, both drawing extensively on his more than three decades of Washington experience.

In July, LaHood joined the advisory board for the University of Chicago's Institute of Politics, established in January by a longtime adviser to President Obama, David Axelrod. This month, LaHood became a senior adviser at the Dirksen Congressional Center in Pekin, Ill., just south of his birthplace in Peoria.

"I'm a big fan of the center," LaHood said in a statement. "The work they do with teachers all over the country is impressive. I began my career as a teacher in Pekin, so I've watched the center grow and prosper over the years."

LaHood, 67, could not be reached for comment, but both the Dirksen Center and the Institute of Politics seem like perfect matches for him.

The center is named for the late Sen. Everett Dirksen, R-Ill., who represented the Peoria-based district in the House from 1933 to 1949 and was succeeded by LaHood 46 years later. LaHood and his wife established a scholarship at the center in 2005, and he archived his congressional papers there in 2008.

Meanwhile, Axelrod's institute has a bipartisan bent, a hallmark of LaHood's entire political career. Other members of the institute's advisory board include Weekly Standard founder Bill Kristol and Republican political consultant Mike Murphy on the right and former Obama adviser David Plouffe and Center for American Progress President Neera Tanden on the left.

LaHood, who taught social studies to junior high school students in Pekin and Peoria for six years, started his Washington career in 1977 as an aide to then-Rep. Tom Railsback, R-Ill. LaHood served a two-year term in the Illinois Legislature and then in 1983 joined the staff of then-Rep. Bob Michel, R-Ill., eventually becoming chief of staff when Michel was House minority leader.

Michel retired in 1994 and LaHood ran successfully for his seat, becoming one of the freshmen in a House Republican majority for the first time in 40 years. During his 14 years in the House, LaHood organized a number of bipartisan retreats for members of Congress; none like it has been held since he decided not to seek an eighth term in 2008.

President Obama tapped LaHood as Transportation secretary for his first term in the White House, making him one of two Republicans—along with Defense Secretary Robert Gates—in his Cabinet. LaHood left Washington when his successor, Anthony Foxx, took office on July 2.

During LaHood's final month in office, his son made international news as a victim of the ongoing turmoil in Egypt.

Sam LaHood had been working in Cairo in early 2012 for a Washington-based organization called the International Republican Institute when he and dozens of other Americans were detained by Egyptian military authorities and accused of stirring up trouble after the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak. It was only after a "no fly" order was lifted in May 2012 that LaHood was able to leave Egypt.

Egyptian authorities didn't drop charges against LaHood and 15 other Americans, however, and in June they were convicted on charges of receiving foreign funds to foment unrest. LaHood was sentenced in absentia to five years in prison. The ruling was strongly denounced by Secretary of State John Kerry.