Quick, name this nation's 16 secretaries of transportation. Can't? OK, identify one.

Quick, name this nation's 16 secretaries of transportation.


Can't? OK, identify one.


If you're sitting in Illinois, Ray LaHood may be on the tip of your tongue, as perhaps he is not in Boise or Birmingham or Bangor. Nonetheless, with the exception of perhaps Elizabeth Dole - who enjoyed some built-in name recognition when she went to work for Ronald Reagan - LaHood arguably has been among the more recognizable and active transportation secretaries, apologies to Claude Brinegar, James Burnley, Rodney Slater, etc. The job - 14th in line of succession to the presidency - doesn't garner many headlines, though through the likes of the Federal Aviation Administration and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, it touches a lot of Americans.


As LaHood prepares to exit the Cabinet, he leaves behind a record that includes an unprecedented emphasis on alerting Americans to the dangers of distracted driving, with the number of states outlawing texting behind the wheel more than doubling (to 39 currently); the nation's most serious try at high-speed rail (despite his reservations as a seven-term congressman); implementation of the infrastructure investments in the 2009 stimulus package; tougher fuel-efficiency requirements for automakers; and advancements in airline safety and treatment of passengers.


His stint was not without controversy. In 2010 he had to recall some of his own comments before a congressional committee investigating Toyota's massive vehicle recall over unintended acceleration issues. His very selection as one of two Republicans in a Democratic Obama administration rankled some conservatives. They shouldn't have been surprised, as LaHood's political career has been a testament to independence and bipartisanship. What some would characterize as a weakness, this page would portray as a strength, utterly necessary to governing in a nation that has not been well served for the lack of that give and take.


In any case, in all the years one has known Ray LaHood, never did he seem to enjoy himself so much as in these last four years, whether appearing on comedian Jon Stewart's "Daily Show," being parodied this week in the humor publication The Onion ("Ray LaHood Resigns Following Mysterious Disappearance of Country Road"), or in traveling to 210 cities in 49 states. "The best job I've ever had in public service," he says. It showed, as if he was born to it.


Journal Star of Peoria, Ill.