President Clinton made official his choice of Federal Highway Administrator Rodney Slater to succeed Federico Pena as secretary of transportation at a Washington, D.C., press conference Dec. 20.
Even before the presidential election, there was talk Secretary Pena was not long for the position. This was said to be due to his losing favor with administration officials for comments he made about the safety of the ValuJet airline after last year's Florida plane crash. Soon after the election, Pena announced he would not be returning to the cabinet post for the president's second term.
One of the last cabinet positions to be filled, it seems that Slater was not the only choice for transportation secretary. Among other possible choices were Norman Mineta, former House Public Works and Transportation Committee chairman who left Congress in 1995, and William Daley, a Chicago lawyer and political ally of the president.
Actually, Daley may have been offered his choice of either the transportation or commerce posts. He accepted the position of secretary of commerce, which is probably for the better. Daley gained most of his notoriety by helping the president gain passage of NAFTA and putting together last summer's Democratic National Convention. Daley received more attention last month when during the president's announcement of his nomination he became weak, he said from the heat of TV cameras and lack of sleep, fainted and fell off the stage at the feet of reporters. He soon recovered and was able to joke about the incident.
Slater's nomination ceremony seemed to progress without such excitement. He stayed on his feet and shook hands with Pena without careening into the crowd. Pena, while seemingly on his way out of Washington, also landed on his feet, having re-emerged as the president's choice to head the Department of Energy.
We have high hopes for Slater as secretary of transportation. An Arkansas native and friend of the president, he was a member of the Arkansas Highway Commission before being appointed federal highway administrator. He is fond of telling stories of his travels on the nation's highways, having traveled with the president during his first presidential campaign. Last summer, Slater conducted a road tour from San Francisco to Washington, D.C., in commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the Interstate Highway System.
He has spoken of the need to rehabilitate our highways and bridges on numerous occasions. He knows the importance of preserving and strengthening our highway system. Of Slater, the president commented, "he has built bridges of steel and goodwill." We trust that Slater will help build those bridges--literally as well as figuratively--as secretary of transportation.