Rep. Ed Markey of Massachusetts was elected to the Senate last month, setting off a chain of events that has led to the appointment of a new ranking member of the Highways and Transit Subcommittee in the House. That new ranking member is DC Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton.
The path from Markey’s victory to Norton’s ascension is a circuitous one. (Larry Ehl did a great job laying it all out a few months ago on Transportation Issues Daily.)
Markey’s move to the Senate opened up the ranking member position on the House Natural Resources Committee. Rep. Peter DeFazio of Oregon was number two there and jumped on the top slot when it opened up. (His departure from the Democratic leadership on transportation is a loss for reformers, as he was a tireless advocate for transit, active transportation, and a strong federal role in transportation funding.)
House Democrats don’t allow members to hold the top position on more than one committee, so DeFazio had to drop his ranking membership on Highways and Transit. Ehl speculated in May that Norton was “very unlikely” to jump on the vacancy, even though she was next in line in terms of seniority, since she would have to drop her ranking membership on the Economic Development and Public Buildings Subcommittee to take it. But she went ahead and did it, and it’s a good thing she did. Eleanor Holmes Norton will be an excellent Highways and Transit ranking member. Here’s why.
On the Highways and Transit panel, Norton is way more Transit than Highways. While DeFazio had a serious soft spot for sustainable transportation, the fact is that his large and mostly rural district relies primarily on roads. Eleanor Holmes Norton’s district — the entire District of Columbia — is entirely urban. DC is home to the second-busiest transit system in the nation, after New York’s subway. Thirty-eight percent of DC residents commute to work on public transportation. Plus, the DC area comes up for public scorn every year when its roads are ranked the most congested by the Texas Transportation Institute. The economic vitality of Norton’s district relies in no small measure on high-quality transportation options.