Rep. Steve LaTourette Leaving Congress, Cites Disgust Over Transpo Bill

Rep. Steve LaTourette, that rare thing -- a moderate, urban Republican -- will be missed for his leadership on transportation. Photo: National Journal

We mentioned last week that transit advocates were losing one supporter in Congress: Russ Carnahan of Missouri. They’ll be suffering another grave loss come January: Ohio Republican Steve LaTourette.

It was clear that the romance was over last year when he called his own party’s freshmen members “knuckledraggers.” He announced two weeks ago that he had decided not to seek re-election.

LaTourette is one of a disappearing breed of moderate Republicans in Congress — and urban ones, at that. He co-sponsored Carnahan’s measure to help out struggling transit agencies and pushed for higher funding levels for transit. “How are we going to build America and put people back to work without robust funding in the transportation sector?” he said at a transit conference last year, exhorting agency officials to demand more from Congress. “If you don’t [ask for more funding], shame on you when your systems deteriorate.”

After once dismissing the job-creation potential of bicycle infrastructure, LaTourette was converted by cycling advocates and has since become a champion for federal bicycle and pedestrian funding, as well as Complete Streets legislation.

LaTourette was alarmed by his party’s proposal for a transportation reauthorization, a stone-age plan to build lots of roads, starve transit, and gut bike/ped funding. He fought hard to get transit funding reinstated – griping about it publicly so much that House Speaker John Boehner reportedly told him to “stop being an a**hole” and just “go talk to John Mica.” He did, and the bill was rewritten.

Still, the final product that came out of conference wasn’t much better, and LaTourette cited “embarrassment” at the entire process as a key reason for his resignation. “I was horribly disappointed by how the transportation reauthorization went,” he said.

“We’re talking about about building roads and bridges for Chrissakes,” he said, adding that he had come to believe his Congressional colleagues have become “more interested in fighting with each other than getting the no-brainers done and governing.” He wanted the House to vote on the bipartisan Senate bill.

But there’s just not much appetite for bipartisanship in the House these days. And as a moderate Republican with strong ties to unions, bipartisanship was LaTourette’s strong suit.

“I have reached the conclusion that the atmosphere today and the reality that exists in the House of Representatives no longer encourages the finding of common ground,” he said upon announcing his resignation.

With just 100 days to go before the election, LaTourette’s sudden resignation leaves local party officials in a bit of a bind, and they’ll have to scramble to come up with a candidate without even going through a primary. If the Republicans can’t put together a winning campaign for the seat in time, perennial Democratic candidate Dale Blanchard will take the seat. The “Why We Should Elect Blanchard” section of his campaign website opens with these inspiring words: “I am an accountant.”