UPDATE: An earlier version of this article included Robert Dold as the fifth potential aisle-crosser. I’ve since been informed that Dold lost his re-election bid this year. Charlie Bass and Judy Biggert, named briefly at the bottom for supporting the Senate transportation bill and Amtrak funding, also lost their elections, making this list even shorter.
First Rep. Tim Johnson of Illinois announced his retirement. Then Ohio’s Rep. Steve LaTourette said he couldn’t take the petty gridlock anymore and followed suit.
They belonged to a disappearing class: moderate Republicans in the House of Representatives. And they were both known for recognizing the value of investments in transit, biking, and walking.
Johnson, a member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, split with his party in supporting dedicated bike/ped funding and funding flexibility for transit agencies. And LaTourette, who left T&I to be vice-chair on the Transportation and HUD Appropriations Subcommittee, was a loud voice against the GOP plan to eliminate federal transit funding.
They’ll be missed for many reasons, but chief among them is this: In a Republican-controlled body, legislation needs at least one Republican co-sponsor to go anywhere. Any bill that benefits transit, biking, or walking can usually count on some Democratic support, but if it’s not at least nominally bipartisan, it will be essentially dead on arrival. These two lawmakers were often brave enough to reach across the aisle and co-sponsor those bills.
Who will do that in the next Congress? Streetsblog set out to identify the moderate Republicans in the House who might forge some solid, bipartisan transportation legislation, or at least keep bad ideas from getting too much momentum. After all, it was Republicans who helped torpedo the worst parts of the House transportation bill this year. These representatives could still make an impact in a chamber where the leadership remains hostile to transportation reform.
Tom Petri. The T&I member from Oshkosh, Wisconsin, is one of the most outspoken bicycling supporters in the House from either party. He co-chairs Earl Blumenauer’s Congressional Bike Caucus. I once heard him tell a group of bike advocates, “We are engaged in a bipartisan war against couch potatoes here in the United States.” If that war really is bipartisan, it’s mostly because of Tom Petri.
Petri introduced an amendment [PDF] to protect funding for bicycling and walking in the trainwreck that was the House transportation bill, H.R. 7. The amendment failed and Petri ended up being the only Republican to vote against H.R. 7 in committee (which was as far as it got), though he says he voted against it “primarily because it slashed highway funding for Wisconsin.” Petri also ensured that metro areas with small transit systems would continue to have the flexibility to allocate federal transit funds to operating costs.
On the other hand, Petri hasn’t taken a strong stance against Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s decision to send high-speed rail funds back to the federal government and, in fact, co-sponsored legislation that would have directed those returned funds toward deficit reduction, not other rail projects.