No sooner had Ray LaHood tendered his resignation as secretary of transportation Tuesday afternoon than speculation mounted on a “celebrity” successor: Antonio Villaraigosa, two-term mayor of Los Angeles and one of the the Democratic Party’s most promising Latino American stars.
In political terms, President Obama would be losing the lone Republican in his first-term Cabinet, but—assuming Chuck Hagel is confirmed as secretary of defense—a former Republican senator from Nebraska would enter the Obama team as a former seven term Republican House Member from Illinois exits. So the president could then be free to tap a high-profile and very partisan Democrat.
A former speaker of the California state Assembly, Villaraigosa has long been regarded as a future Democratic governor or senator from the Golden State and even a candidate for national office. Less than two weeks ago, his address at the National Press Club in Washington DC on immigration was a sold-out event. After two two-year terms in City Hall, Villaraigosa is “termed out” in April and appointment to the Cabinet would give him a new political home in which to land.
In addition, a Villaraigosa appointment to the Cabinet would solve another political problem. With Democrats holding all major statewide offices in California and Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein considered shoo-ins for re-election so long as they choose, there is no available office to which Villaraigosa could turn—at least not in 2014. Making him “Secretary Villaraigosa” not only gives him a home but a base with which to be considered for future office—quite possibly, as vice presidential running mate to Joe Biden or Hillary Clinton in 2016.
As for LaHood, there might still be political ramifications from his service under a Democratic president. The outgoing secretary’s son is State Sen. Darin LaHood, considered a political comer in the Land of Lincoln. A former assistant U.S. attorney, young LaHood is considered a strong favorite to succeed Rep. Aaron Schock in the Peoria-area U.S. House District (formerly held by the elder LaHood) if Schock chooses to run for governor next year. Whether primary voters hold the “sin” of the father—working for Obama—against the son will surely be an intriguing political story to watch in 2014.