Ray LaHood endorses Dan Rutherford for Illinois governor: His next chapter

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WASHINGTON—Ray LaHood’s career has taken him along various paths—congressional staffer, GOP lawmaker from a district anchored in Peoria and as Transportation Secretary for Democratic President Barack Obama.

After stepping down as Department of Transportation secretary last July—he started at the beginning of Obama’s first term–LaHood has been piecing together his next chapter which so far includes a book, academia, speaking, co-chairing a non-profit and his latest, signing on as a part-time policy advisor with the law firm founded in Chicago, DLA Piper.

LaHood also is endorsing Treasurer Dan Rutherford for governor, while at the same time worrying that the backing of an Obama cabinet official may not be helpful in this four-way Republican primary battle.

LaHood said he has known Rutherford for years.

“I love Dan’s enthusiasm and energy,” LaHood said. He noted that Rutherford has a track record getting elected statewide that his rivals do not. “He knows where the Republican votes are,” LaHood said. “…He is one of the very few Republicans elected statewide. He is the right person for Illinois.”

While LaHood is one of the major figures coming out of Illinois GOP politics, in a Republican primary where contenders run to the right having the support of a moderate who served in a Democratic administration means the endorsement could have drawbacks.

“Having Ray LaHood’s support is a mixed blessing,” he told me. “Some Republicans are not happy I went to work for Obama.”

One of LaHood’s sons, Darin, is a GOP state senator from a district that includes Peoria.

As for joining DLA Piper, “I wanted to land somewhere I could use my Capitol Hill and (Transportation) experience,” LaHood told.

LaHood said he will not be a lobbyist and the position is structured to take 60 percent of his time, which gives him flexibility to speak, write and be engaged with other organizations.

“It is the best of both worlds for me,” he said.

LaHood also just became a co-chair of a non-profit organization, “Building America’s Future,” where he serves along with former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, former Pennsylvania Governor Edward Rendell and former California Gov. Arnold Schwarznegger.

As Transportation Secretary, he was one of Obama’s top salesman for wooing Congress to invest in infrastructure projects; Building America’s Future is, according to the group, “a bipartisan coalition of elected officials dedicated to bringing about a new era of U.S. investment in infrastructure that enhances our nation’s prosperity and quality of life.”

LaHood, who served in the House of Representatives between 1995 and 2009—after working as a top staffer to former Rep. Bob Michel R-Ill– told me he just completed a book about his time in the House and at DOT, written with Frank Mackaman, the director of the Everett McKinley Dirksen Congressional Leadership Research Center at Bradley University in Peoria.

The book does not have an official title but LaHood said it could be “A Front Row Seat on Washington History,” about his 35 years on Capitol Hill and being a Republican in a Democratic administration.

While LaHood has long-times ties with Bradley—he donated his congressional and DOT papers to the school—he also joined The University of Chicago Institute of Politics Board of Advisors. The U. of Chicago IOP was founded by former Obama top strategist David Axelrod.

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