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Trying to Understand What Elaine Chao Will Mean for Transportation in the U.S.

Incoming transportation secretary, Elaine Chao, has a long history at the highest levels of American Federal government. Laura Biss looks at what her past may tell us about how Chao will govern.
December 4, 2016, 7am PST | Casey Brazeal | @northandclark
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Elaine Chao would come into the position of Secretary of Transportation with a long resume. She served in George H.W. Bush's cabinet as the Deputy Secretary of Transportation and George W. Bush's cabinet as Secretary of Labor, and worked for the conservative think tank, the Heritage Foundation. Chao is also married to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Her experience as an immigrant makes her unique among the current Trump cabinet. Speaking on her experience of coming to the United States from Taiwan with no knowledge of English, Chao said, "I know what it is like to feel vulnerable and fearful during a difficult time. That's why I am always exhorting my colleagues that whatever we do, it has a real impact. We are not just dealing with programs or pieces of paper."

Chao comes to the U.S. Department of Transportation at a pivotal time for new technologies that may change how Americans drive in the future, "The DOT is tasked with creating and enforcing safety standards for emerging transportation technologies, including autonomous vehicles and high-speed rail, as well as for existing. It’s worth watching whether Chao advocates more for drivers, riders, and pedestrians, or for the companies manufacturing cars and other mobility choices," Laura Biss writes for City Lab. While it's difficult to speculate how she will manage emerging issues, she does have a record in dealing with issues of equality. "She repeatedly expressed harsh opposition to affirmative action programs designed to increase diversity in schools and companies, calling out the “damage” created by setting special quotas or preferences of any kind," Biss reports. Issues of equity have been a focus of the Obama administration’s DOT, which has worked on "mending the racial and economic divides created by 20th-century highway building," Biss writes.

For more Planetizen coverage on Elaine Chao's potential appointment as the next Secretary of Transportation, see an article by Irvin Dawid.

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Published on Tuesday, November 29, 2016 in CityLab
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