U.S. Representative Ray LaHood is a 51-year-old native of Peoria. Congressman Ray LaHood is a graduate of St. Bernard’s Grade School, Spalding Institute, Canton Junior College and Bradley University. He graduated from Bradley with a degree in Education and Sociology.
While at Bradley, LaHood began his political career by winning a race for precinct committeeman in a West Bluff precinct.
A teacher by training, LaHood started his career teaching at Catholic and public schools for six years. He then moved to the Quad Cities, serving as Chief Planner of the Bi-State Metropolitan Commission and as Director of the Rock Island Youth Services Bureau, before joining the office of 17th District Congressman Tom Railsback. He served five years as his District Administrative Assistant.
After a brief stint in the Illinois House of Representatives, LaHood went to work for former U.S. House Minority Leader Bob Michel in1983. For 20 years he ran the district office operations for Congressman Michel, the last four years serving as Chief of Staff for both the Washington and Illinois staffs.
In 1994, LaHood won the seat that Mr. Michel was vacating. In 1996, he won reelection, winning all 14 counties of the 18th District.
Congressman LaHood serves on the Board of Trustees of Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C.; is a former president of the Spalding and Notre Dame high school boards; and has served on the boards of, among others, the Peoria Area Chamber of Commerce, Peoria Area Retarded Citizens, Children’s Hospital, and the Central Illinois Chapter of the American Red Cross.
LaHood, an avid runner, might be spotted during the summer at several road races in the Peoria area. He and wife Kathy have four children, Darin, Amy, Sam and Sara.
Given the fact that you are starting your second term in office what do you feel are the differences between the freshman class of the 105th Congress and your freshman class of the 104th Congress?
I feel the current freshman class of the 105th Congress is a mores seasoned class of than two years ago. Many of the current freshmen have backgrounds at all levels of government service, sort of coming up through the “farm system.” The class two years ago was more diverse, but many were aided in their elections by being political “outsiders,” people who had not been involved in local or state government and actually ran against Congress itself. This class was aided by the fact that they have been involved in government and as a result came to Washington with a cooperative spirit with the goals of solving the country’s problems.
Also in the 104th, the freshmen were almost all Republican. We had 73 freshmen while the Democrats only had 13. This Congress is much more evenly divided, with Democrats actually holding a few more seats in the freshman class.
How will the different makeup of the current freshman class affect the agenda and accomplishments of the 105th Congress?
Given the fact that many in the current class have come up through state and local government, they have a more tempered approach to the agenda and what they hope to accomplish. Couple this with the balance in numbers between the two parties, not only in the freshmen class but in the House overall, and I think it leads to more cooperation and input from both sides of the aisle.
Many that have been elected to this Congress have been talking about working in a bipartisan fashion to help solve the nation’s problems. Even the Congressional leadership and President Clinton have been talking about working together. Recently the President came to Capitol Hill to met with the leadership and discuss the agenda for the 105th. Both sides agreed on several issues we will attempt to tackle in the 105th. Balancing the budget, Medicare reform and tax reform are at the top of that agenda.
The House Republicans, while still maintaining their majority, how hold nine fewer sears than in the last Congress. How will this slimmer majority (18 seats) affect the agenda for the 105th Congress?
It will have a bearing on what is accomplished, but Republicans will most certainly still drive the agenda on the Hill. During the last Congress the House really set the agenda, but this time I think the Senate, where the Republicans gained two seats, could very well take the lead.
Majority Leader Trent Lott is a dynamic leader for the Senate. Last year he became the driving force behind many of our accomplishments, from welfare reform to health insurance reform. He has a good relationship with his members as well as the House leadership. He also has proved that he is willing to work with the Administration to move forward on legislation.
Since the House Republican majority is smaller, the leadership does not have as much room for defections on legislation. I think this might lead to more legislation with input from both sides of the aisle.
It certainly will affect any deal that is reached in balancing the budget, fixing Medicare or reforming the tax code because we will probably need votes from both Democrats and Republicans to pass it. With all the talk about working in a bipartisan fashion, I feel the close numbers in the House might actually help lead us in that direction.
How has your role in Congress changed from your freshman session to the new session?
During the 104th Congress, I feel that my offices was able to “hit the ground running” because of my services with Mr. Michel and that my office was better able to serve our constituents that the typical freshman.
The experience of my freshman term certainly adds to my knowledge of Congress. During this term I will continue to use my experience to be an advocate for central Illinois. I have good relations with the Speaker and his staff. I think my recent appointment by the Speaker to the Board of Trustees of Gallaudet University in Washington, and my recent appointment to the Veterans’ Affairs Committee was accomplished working through the Speaker’s office. I also feel I have good relations with many members from both sides of the aisle.
Also, largely because of my experience in Bob’s office, I have been asked to preside over the House as Speaker Pro Tempore probably more than any other representative during the last two years. Presiding over the House is a tremendous honor for me, something I did not even dream about the first time I ran.
Earlier you mentioned bipartisanship and the fact that many legislators are talking about working together during this Congress. You have been in the lead on this issue since well before the last election. Could you explain what you are doing to make the House a more civilized assembly?
Congressman David Skaggs, a Colorado Democrat, and I, along with about eight other members, are organizing a retreat for all members of the House and their families. Mr. Skaggs and I came up with this idea last summer while discussing the fact that debate in the House had become bitterly acrimonious.
There are many well-documented incidents over the last few years in which members have made personal attacks on other members during debate on an issue. The people organizing the retreat feel that if we can bring members together in a social setting and get to know one another with their families, that we will develop greater respect among representatives.
A problem with the House today is the fact that we do not interact with other members on a social level. We are there for debate during the week, which many times extends late into the night, but then travel home on the weekends to be in our districts. Members do not get to know one another outside the confrontational atmosphere of the House. If members knew other members and their families, we feel we could ratchet down the rhetoric and actions in the House.
We realize the retreat is not a panacea, but we feel it could be a step in the direction of restoring some public confidence in Congress.
When will this retreat take place?
Members and their families will travel by train to a conference center in Hershey, Pennsylvania, the weekend of March 7-9. There is no taxpayer money involved whatsoever and no one outside of members, their families, and a few staff will be attending.
During the weekend, we will have House members lead discussions and sessions dealing with communication and other aspects of working together. We have planned activities such as an ecumenical prayer service as well as a dinner at which members will provide the entertainment. We are not promoting serious policy discussions at the retreat, though I am sure some will take place, but instead we will try to foster better relations between members outside the atmosphere of Capitol Hill.
Many people believe the reason for the public’s lack of confidence in Congress stems from the current campaign system. Is campaign reform going to take place?
I am a supporter of campaign reform. During the last Congress I voted for a sound proposal that would have reformed our campaign finance laws. Unfortunately it did not get nearly enough votes to pass.
I feel the public is fed up with the current campaign structure. They endure campaigns that often last years. They read about all the abuses in soft money contributions and money coming from foreign sources. The public rightly feels that it is time for a change. But even with this public support, I am not very optimistic that campaign reform will take place.
I will vote for campaign reform again during this Congress if it comes to the floor. But I am not sure we will see it become reality in the near future.
In Illinois there has been some discussion of moving the primary date from March to August or September. This is something I certainly support and I hope the General Assembly passes legislation to change the date. Moving to a later primary would be a great help in shortening the campaign season and cutting down on the money raising process.
You have been reassigned to the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Could you highlight the impact this committee has on central Illinois?
The Transportation Committee is certainly an important one for central Illinois.
The people in Peoria know the importance of Interstate 74. We also have I-155, I-55, and I-39 in the area. We have major airports in Peoria, Bloomington, and Springfield. The Illinois River is also a vital part of our industrial transportation needs.
With a seat on this committee, I am able to have input over the jurisdiction of our diverse network of transportation.
What are your priorities for this committee?
The Transportation Committee this year will reauthorize the legislation that oversees the entire federal highway system. The legislation, known by the acronym ISTEA, provides funding for highways, transit systems, and other modes of transportation.
My number one priority is the advancement of the Peoria to Chicago highway. I am committed to securing funding for the Peoria to Chicago project. This is a project that will probably take several decades to complete, but we are well on the way to providing this vital link for central Illinoisans. The economic impact of the highway will be tremendous.
I will also be working for completion of the “Corridor 76” project in the Jacksonville area, as well as looking at the rehabilitation of Interstate 74 through Peoria.
You mentioned the Illinois River earlier. How does the Transportation Committee play a role with the river?
This committee has jurisdiction over the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the organization that maintains the nation’ waterways.
One of the biggest transportation needs in our area is for the farmers who rely upon the Illinois River to transport grain. The river is the main artery that connects Chicago and the Great Lakes to the Mississippi River. As such, the Illinois plays a large role in the global transportation needs of farmers and industry. The Corps makes sure that the river is maintained for safe transportation and recreation.
You are also part of Lt. Governor Bob Kustra’s “Illinois River Strategy Team.” What is its purpose?
The Illinois River runs the entire length of the 18th District, from Hennepin to Meredosia. Here in Peoria the river is really the “heart” of the city. It is a tremendous natural, recreational, and economic resource for our area. Anyone just needs to notice what Peoria is accomplishing on the riverfront to realize the impact the river has on our city.
But there is a serious problem with the river. Siltation is taking over the river at a tremendous rate. The River Strategy Team has brought together a broad coalition of people who have an interest in the river. Farmers, environmentalists, local company executives, college professors, state and local officials have all come together to formulate a plan to help the Illinois.
In late January, we unveiled a management plan that contains 34 separate recommendations and steps to help preserve the river for future generations. Additionally, Governor Edgar recently unveiled a plan presented to the federal government to promote a partnership in maintaining the river. The Governor has agreed to contribute up to $100 million from the state in return for the federal assistance for the management plan.
This is not a “quick fix,” nor is there one single item that will help the river. It will really take a grand effort extending across many governmental, industrial, and personal boundaries to be able to preserve the river.
What role will Peoria take in this effort?
The Peoria area is the crown jewel of the Illinois River valley. We have much at stake with what we are trying to do along the riverfront, on both sides of the river. Many business leaders have stepped forward to help develop the riverfront into a vibrant economic and recreational resource. The riverfront has a bright future.
But while people might travel on Grand View of Fondulac drives and see the board and barges traversing the river, not many realize the bottom is quickly rising. There could come a day that sailboats are not able to said on the river because it is filled in. If that day would come, all the work we have done on the river would be for nothing.
I feel the Edgar administration has “stepped up to the plate” on this issue. To go along with that, we need the people along the river, especially from the Peoria area, to continue taking a larger hold in helping preserve the river.
We are the largest metropolitan area on the river, therefore we need to help implement the management plan to ensure that our greatest national resource is maintained.
What is your role in helping implement the river management plan?
I am fortunate enough to not only serve on the Transportation Committee, but also the Agriculture Committee. These two committees do play a role in maintaining our river.
The Agriculture Committee, with its oversight of the nation’s agriculture policy, has great influence over protecting natural resources such as the Illinois River. As I said earlier, the Transportation Committee oversees the Corps, but it also has jurisdiction over federal programs such as the Clean Water Act.
As I continue to serve on these two committees, I will be able to advocate obtaining federal resources to help preserve the Illinois. I will also promote the Governor’s proposal on the federal level. But it is incumbent upon local people and organizations to preserve the Illinois.
What items will the Agriculture Committee be addressing during this Congress?
At the top of the agenda will be reauthorizing the program that oversees agriculture research in the country.
Peoria is home to one of only four federal agriculture research laboratories in the United States. I was pleased when the President included $8 million for the Peoria ag lab in his Fiscal Year 1998 budget.
The ag lab is at the forefront of where agriculture will be in the 21st century. Alternative uses of agriculture products, such as ethanol, hold great potential for American agriculture. I am hopeful we will be able to highlight the importance of the Peoria lab during debate on this reauthorization.
We will also continue to monitor the implementation of the Freedom to Farm legislation that became law last year; we will take a close look at crop insurance; and we will keep up the fight for ethanol.
Just recently you have been appointed to the Veterans’ Affairs Committee. How will that benefit central Illinoisans?
Obviously central Illinois has many veterans. Last year alone, my office handled almost 600 veterans and military cases.
We have a quality clinic in Peoria that does a great service to the community. Additionally in the 18th District we have a clinic in Decatur and Camp Butler National Cemetery in Springfield. Illinois is also home to many veterans’ hospitals, such as the ones in Chicago, Danville, and Marion.
As the only Illinois Republican on the Committee, I can be an advocate between those Illinoisans who have sacrificed by serving in the military and those who set the policy overseeing veterans’ programs. I feel it is a great opportunity.
In closing, you were a vocal and hard-working supporter of Senator Dole in the last election. With the reelection of President Clinton, what is your outlook for his agenda, or what he will attempt to accomplish? Also, who’s in the field for the 2000 election?
Well, as for the President, he certainly could make a legacy for himself if he works with us to pass a balanced budget. There is a freshman Congressman, Harold Ford Jr. of Tennessee, who is 26 years old. Congressman Ford has never lived a day in his life in which the federal government has had a balanced budget. That is incredible.
If you look at the president’s track record on a balanced budget, it is not very encouraging. He has twice had the opportunity to sign a balanced budget into law, but instead he has used his veto pen twice.
This year he has submitted a plan that will balance the budget by the year 2002, but I feel there are some real problems with his budget. One of the largest problems is the fact that most of the spending reductions he has propose do not take place until he is out of office. He could take the credit now for a balanced budget, but not be around when the hard choices need to be made.
But I am hopeful this will be a constructive Congress and that we will be able to work with the president to pass items for the good of the American public.
As for the 2000 election, who knows? It is way too early to tell, but it certainly will be very exciting.
Obviously Vice-President Gore is positioning himself, as well as Minority Leader Gephardt on the Democrat side. The field is wide open on the Republican side. There are many names; Dan Quayle, Lamar Alexander, Jack Kemp, Colin Powell, just to name a few, but it will be a while before anyone announces. After that, the fun will begin. IBI