Republican Senator Jim DeMint shocked D.C. last week by announcing his resignation just two years into his current term. DeMint resigned to lead the Heritage Foundation. Here’s how it impacts transportation stakeholders.
DeMint, a leading figure in the Tea Party movement, was likely to become the Ranking Republican on the Commerce Committee. That’s the panel that oversees legislation dealing with freight, marine transportation and the Coast Guard, highway safety and some other issues.
Commerce Committee Chair Jay Rockefeller runs his Committee in perhaps the most bipartisan fashion of any Senate Chair, affording the Ranking Republican with almost equal influence. DeMint, as a leading proponent of reducing federal spending and eliminating earmarks, would have been able to play a significant role in shaping the next transportation bill. He almost certainly would have led the fight against a gas tax increase, against future general fund transfers to transportation programs, and against programs like TIGER that could fund port and freight projects. DeMint was often a thorn in the side of Senate Republican leadership
Next in line to become Ranking Republican is Senator John Thune. He has a history of working in a bipartisan manner to pass legislation, while also being more of a team player with party leadership. But Thune is also the Republican Senate Conference chairman, essentially number three in leadership. That’s a hefty job with a lot of responsibilities. Leading your party on a major, extremely active committee like Commerce is also a hefty job. Some wonder if any Senator can adequately fill both positions.
A final decision on who will be the Ranking Republican may not occur until January.