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GOP's LaHood eyed for Transportation job

Obama reportedly plans to name the Illinois congressman, stepping down after 14 years.

President-elect Barack Obama with cabinet choices Tom Vilsack (left) for Agriculture and Ken Salazar for Interior.
President-elect Barack Obama with cabinet choices Tom Vilsack (left) for Agriculture and Ken Salazar for Interior.Read moreAssociated Press

CHICAGO - President-elect Barack Obama intends to name Rep. Ray LaHood of Illinois, a Republican, as his transportation secretary, a Democratic official said yesterday.

The official disclosed the selection of LaHood after Obama earlier in the day announced former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack as agriculture secretary and Sen. Ken Salazar (D., Colo.) to head the Interior Department.

LaHood, 63, is stepping down from his House seat after 14 years of representing the area around Peoria.

He has been at the forefront of efforts to make the floor of the House less partisan. Respected for his ability to preside, he was in the chair during most of President Bill Clinton's impeachment a decade ago.

His selection was applauded by the Laborers' International Union of North America, with general president Terry O'Sullivan saying the Republican "has been a friend to our union when it comes to construction and transportation issues."

The official who disclosed LaHood's selection as transportation secretary did so on condition of anonymity because the Obama team did not authorize the disclosure.

LaHood, Vilsack and Salazar must be confirmed by the Senate.

The selections came as Obama worked on completing his cabinet, possibly ahead of a year-end holiday vacation in Hawaii with his family.

He has yet to announce choices for the Labor Department, senior intelligence posts, or the Office of U.S. Trade Representative. Numerous subcabinet posts also remain unfilled.

Late yesterday, McClatchy Newspapers and the Dallas Morning News, citing unnamed insiders, reported that former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk was the likely pick for the trade role. Kirk, 54, declined to comment when reached by phone by the Dallas paper.

For the Agriculture and Interior Departments - which oversee federal farming and land policies - Obama said his approach would be to "serve not big agribusiness or Washington influence-peddlers but family farmers and the American people."

He said this meant promoting development as well as protection of environmental treasures, and expanding both agriculture and new energy sources.

"I am confident we have the team we need to make the rural agenda America's agenda, to create millions of new green jobs, to free our nation from its dependence on oil, and to help preserve this planet for our children," Obama said in introducing Vilsack and Salazar at a news conference.

Vilsack, 58, who was first elected Iowa governor in 1998, carved out a reputation as a political centrist. He balanced Iowa's budget and resisted raising taxes but was willing to spend on such priorities as education and health. He argued that pushing alternative energy sources was key to bolstering rural sections of the nation that are struggling economically.

"Tom will not only help ensure that rural America has a true partner in implementing the farm bill and pursuing agricultural research, but that Washington is looking out for everyone, from the small family farms that are feeding our communities to the large farms that are feeding the world," Obama said.

Salazar will head a department that oversees oil and gas drilling on public lands and manages parks and wildlife refuges. He is expected to try to balance protection of natural resources with use of the nation's energy potential - an approach that Obama said he wanted.

Salazar cosponsored a bill in Congress to create a new land-conservation system under Interior's Bureau of Land Management for permanently protecting 26 million acres of national monuments, wilderness areas, and rivers. The bill died during the special session of Congress after the Nov. 4 election.

The Colorado senator opposed drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and objected to the Bush administration's efforts to lease Western lands for oil-shale development.

If Salazar is confirmed, Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter, a Democrat, would appoint someone to serve out the final two years of his Senate term. Several Democrats pointed to Rep. John Salazar, the senator's brother, as a leading possibility to take the seat.

Obama's Latest Nominees

Ken Salazar

Interior secretary.

53; born March 2, 1955, in Alamosa, Colo.

U.S. senator from Colorado, 2005 to date; Colorado attorney general, 1999-2004; executive director, Colorado Department

of Natural Resources, 1990-94; chief legal counsel to Colorado

Gov. Roy Romer, 1986-90; private law practice in Denver, 1994-98 and 1981-86.

B.A. in political science, Colorado College, 1977; J.D., University of Michigan, 1981.

Thomas James Vilsack

Agriculture secretary.

58; born Dec. 13, 1950, in Pittsburgh.

Of counsel, Dorsey & Whitney law firm in Des Moines, 2007 to date; Iowa governor, 1998-2006; Iowa state senator, 1992-98; mayor of Mount Pleasant, Iowa, 1987-92.

B.A., Hamilton College, 1972; J.D., Albany Law School, 1975.