Ray LaHood, Cabinet’s sole Republican, leaving transportation post

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, the only Republican in President Barack Obama’s Cabinet, announced on Tuesday he is stepping down.

“It has been an honor and a privilege to lead the department, and I am grateful to President Obama for giving me such an extraordinary opportunity,” LaHood, a former seven-term Republican congressman from Illinois, wrote in a letter to his staff. LaHood said he would stay in his post until his replacement is named “to ensure a smooth transition for the department and all the important work we still have to do.”

It had long been rumored that LaHood wouldn’t stick around for a second term. Among those who have been mentioned as possible successors are former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who played a key role in boosting last year’s federal transportation bill.

The White House declined to comment on personnel rumors.

Obama tapped LaHood for his administration in 2009 as part of an effort to show he was committed to bipartisanship in Washington. But Republicans quickly criticized LaHood as being out of step with conservative principles in part by his championing additional spending on federal transportation infrastructure they said the country couldn’t afford.

In a statement on Tuesday, Obama thanked LaHood for his “outstanding work” and his “friendship.”

The president added: “Years ago, we were drawn together by a shared belief that those of us in public service owe an allegiance not to party or faction, but to the people we were elected to represent. And Ray has never wavered in that belief.”

In his letter, LaHood listed a series of accomplishments he said he was proud of, including a program to stop drivers from texting while behind the wheel. He also cited the more than $50 billion in new transportation projects passed as part of Obama’s stimulus package that he said “helped jumpstart the economy and put our fellow Americans back to work.”

LaHood said, “I’ve told President Obama, and I’ve told many of you, that this is the best job I’ve ever had."