Former U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood stressed the importance of government compromise to solve the nation’s problems when he spoke at the UNC School of Government on Thursday.
LaHood, who served as transportation secretary from 2009 to 2013, gave the 2013 Deil S. Wright Lecture to a standing room-only audience, where he talked about bipartisanship and the government shutdown.
“Compromise is not a bad word. Consensus is not a bad word. It’s the way our country can solve its problems,” he said. “That’s the way America has always been, and that’s the way that we have done big things.”
LaHood said throughout his time in government, he has seen the federal government solve problems through compromise.
He said in the 1990s, President Bill Clinton and Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich were still able to pass significant legislation despite differing points of view.
“We passed three balanced budgets. You think it was easy? No. What happened? People compromised,” he said.
But now, LaHood said some politicians are not willing to compromise.
“In the last two election cycles, 30 to 40 people, primarily Republicans — remember I’m a Republican — primarily Republicans got elected to go to Washington and to vote no and to be against everything,” he said.
He said these people got elected on an anti-government premise, which has threatened Congress’s productivity.
Voters should endeavor to elect politicians who believe government has some kind of role, whether big or small, he said.
“There are some things that government can do and does very well,” he said. “Ask a veteran who used a GI Bill to get a college education. These are good programs.”
LaHood said President Barack Obama holds similar beliefs about being willing to reach across the aisle — LaHood was not the only Republican in Obama’s cabinet.
“I believe bipartisanship is in the president’s DNA,” he said. “I want you to understand the idea of bipartisanship is not some slogan … and I’m an example of it.”
Durham County manager Mike Ruffin, who attended the lecture, said people like LaHood need to continue emphasizing the importance of bipartisanship in the federal government.
“He certainly emphasized in his lecture the value of listening, and to him that was the most important ingredient of leadership,” he said. “I think that’s something our country is sorely missing.”
Carla Davis-Castro, a candidate for a masters of public administration at the UNC School of Government, said she appreciated LaHood’s honest answers and interesting stories about working with Obama.
She said it was also interesting to find out how expensive it was to run for office. LaHood said during the speech that it would cost a minimum of $1 million to run a Congressional campaign.
“Makes you think twice, which is not a good thing when you want a representative democracy of the people,” she said. “Seeing that price tag can keep people out. That was shocking to me.”
LaHood encouraged students to get involved in government.
“Not giving up on your principles, standing for something but believing in the institution that you work in and believing that institution can really make a difference,” he said. “That where we’ll be in the future if you all get involved.”
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