Serving with distinction

18 April 2008

For those who worry that the governance of America has become bogged down in bitter partisan politics, the example of Norman Y. Mineta offers considerable hope. When he stepped down as Secretary of Transportation on July 7, he had served longer than any of his 13 predecessors.

Mineta was one of last three original Bush cabinet members. He also served as Secretary of Commerce during the Clinton administration, becoming the first person to switch directly from a Democratic to a Republican cabinet.

“Since our first conversation in Austin on January 2, 2001, up until and including this very day, you have treated me – a Democrat – with great respect and courtesy,” wrote Mineta in his letter of resignation. “Over the past five and half years, I would like to think that you and I have demonstrated, even in a small way, that different political affiliations do not have to translate into opposing views on the value of public policy issues or the nobility of public service.”

In accepting the resignation, President Bush noted that Mineta had served America with integrity, dedication and distinction. “Norm is an inspiration to all of us and has earned the admiration of a grateful nation,” said the President.

My admiration runs particularly deep. While employed by the American Trucking Associations, I met Mineta several years ago and worked directly with him on a few occasions. He spoke for me at a transportation coalition meeting and demonstrated nothing less than total commitment and sound judgment.

My experience with him was by no means unique. He has always been 100 percent committed to advancing the United States agenda, whether the issues involved transportation or other important matters.

His remarkable career as a public servant dates back almost 40 years, when he served as a member of the City Council in San Jose California for four years before moving up to become the first Asian Pacific American mayor of a major US city. As mayor, he favored greater control of transportation decisions by local government.

From 1975 to 1995, he was a member of US House of Representatives, representing the heart of California's Silicon Valley. He quickly gained a reputation for consensus building among his colleagues and for forging public-private partnerships.

Nobody was better equipped to champion the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which officially apologized for and redressed the injustices endured by Japanese Americans during World War II. He and his family were among the 120,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry forced from their homes and into internment camps during the war.

Mineta was also chairman of the House Public Works and Transportation Committee between 1992 and 1994. During his career in Congress, he often called for increases in investment for transportation infrastructure.

As Secretary of Transportation, he oversaw an agency with almost 60,000 employees and a $61.6 billion budget. Too often in major government organizations, top officials sit back and let bureaucracy get in the way of progress. Mineta never let that happen.

He played a major role in all three of the surface transportation authorization acts (ISTEA, TEA-21, and SAFETEA-LU). During his watch, America achieved the lowest vehicle fatality rate, the highest safety belt usage rate, and the lowest rail fatality level. His recently announced plan to seriously reduce congestion nationally stands to “improve the quality of life for all Americans while keeping our economy strong.”

Several of his proudest moments came after some of our nation's most horrible days. After the terrorisThattacks of September 11, 2001 and Hurricane Katrina last year, he worked to keep our nation moving.

With such an admirable record, most 74-year-old men would be content to retire. However, Mineta has signed on as vice chairman of public relations giant Hill and Knowlton. We at SC & RA wish him the best in his future endeavors.


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