As an Atlanta trial lawyer focused heavily on trucking accident cases involving serious personal injury or wrongful death, I’ve been watching for President-elect Obama’s choices for Secretary of Transportation and for Administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. 

The new DOT Secretary will be Congressman Ray Lahood, a Republican from rural downstate Illinois.  After reading about Lahood, my hunch is that he was chosen to drum up bipartisan Congressional support for  funding of major transportation infrastructure projects that Obama plans to help jumpstart the economy.

Some folks in the trucking industry like him; I just hope safety advocates like him as much.  Land Line quotes Rod Nofziger, Director of Government Affairs for the Owner Operator Independent Drivers Association, as saying, "Mr. LaHood would be an excellent pick by the Obama administration. It’s very encouraging and would be a great thing for small-business truckers.”  He got some campaign contributions from the American Trucking Association, and got a 100% rating for voting with the ATA.

LaHood is an Arab-American Republican Congressman who for 14 years has represented the area around Springfield and Peoria, Illinois. He has close bipartisan relationships with President-elect Obama and Chief of Staff Designate Rahm Emanual.

Mike Dorning at The Swamp blog quotes Emanuel’s recent comments on the House floor about LaHood:

If you look back and I think if you ask all our colleagues, somebody when our framers thought of a member of Congress what they had in their mind’s eye, that person would be Ray LaHood, whose decency, his sense of what it is that he was doing here on behalf of who he was doing it for never changed in his 30 years. He is an individual who, while firm in his principles, was very flexible about his opinions.

A story on ABC News lists some of the priorities facting the US DOT, and does not list anything at the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. I hope that trucking safety advocates are able to get his ear too.

As a "redneck lawyer" from Georgia, I know that leaders can transcend their backgrounds when promoted to new positions.  Ray Lahood has been a congressman from a rural and small town district in downstate Illinois, where Caterpillar is the main industry. While big national issues such as urban transit, air travel safety and for that matter motor carrier safety have not been big vote getters in his district, he has shown interest in upgrading transportation. Obama and Emanuel know him well and apparently think he has capacity for growth and effectiveness.

Stay tuned.

 Ken Shigley is an Atlanta, Georgia trial attorney with a practice is focused on cases of catastrophic personal injury and wrongful death arising from commercial truck and bus accidents. He is a former chair of the Southeastern Motor Carrier Liability Institute, and is a frequent speaker at national continuing legal education programs on trucking liability cases. He has been rated as a "Super Lawyer" (Atlanta Magazine), one of the "Legal Elite" (Georgia Trend Magazine), and a Certified Civil Trial Advocate (National Board of Trial Advocacy,).  Mr. Shigley is currently Secretary of the 40,000 member State Bar of Georgia.  To increase capacity for handling more and larger cases, he recently became "of counsel" with the law firm of Chambers, Aholt & Rickard which has an extensive trucking liability practice.