Earlier today I stood on stage with President-elect Biden, where I was humbled to be nominated to serve our nation as Secretary of Transportation.
Of course, as I look forward to taking on this new challenge, I can’t help but reflect for a moment on the road we’ve traveled together -- and to feel a deep sense of gratitude for this community of supporters.
Whether you joined back when we were four people working out of a tiny office in downtown South Bend or signed up last week -- to everyone who has been a part of this effort, talking to your family and friends, posting on social media, or chipping in when you could -- I want to say thank you.
Through it all, we’ve stuck to our Rules of the Road -- and Chasten and I are so grateful for the kindness you’ve shown to us at each step. You’ve proven that a politics built around who we can call to our side, where everyone can find belonging, isn’t just possible -- it’s here.
Below are my remarks from today’s event. And I wanted you to know, I’m looking forward to when our paths will cross again and to seeing all the ways I know you will stay involved to help win the era to come.
Mr. President-elect, Madam Vice President-elect, thank you for entrusting me with this opportunity to serve the American people. I am humbled by your confidence, and eager to do everything in my power to ensure that this administration succeeds.
My hometown of South Bend, Indiana, was built by the power of American transportation: from trade along the river whose bend gives our city its name, to the rail lines that connected us to the rest of the country back when we were considered the West, to the livelihoods created by good-paying union jobs at aeronautical suppliers like Bendix and the giant auto assembly of Studebaker. And now, climate and infrastructure innovation have helped bring my community into the 21st century.
I’ve also had a personal love of transportation ever since childhood. More than once, as a college student, I would convince a friend to travel nearly a thousand miles back to Indiana on Amtrak, though I know that in this administration, I will at best be the second biggest train enthusiast. I spent a spring break in graduate school studying on board a cargo ship. Travel in my mind is synonymous with adventure, growth, and, even love, so much so that I proposed to my husband, Chasten, in an airport terminal. Don’t let anyone tell you O’Hare isn’t romantic.
And let me take this chance to thank Chasten for all that he does, and for his sacrifices, to support me in pursuing public service.
The first time I ran for office was on a platform of supporting the Obama-Biden administration’s rescue of the auto industry. And when I became mayor of a city fighting its way out of the teeth of the Great Recession, infrastructure was at the heart of our vision.
We reimagined how vehicles and people moved through the city, unlocking new vibrancy in our urban core. We built up partnerships, from a regional collaboration to improve rail service to the public-private partnership that put our city at the cutting edge of bicycle mobility. We developed new forms of support for lower-wage workers in their commutes, and added electric vehicle charging infrastructure to help prepare a more sustainable future.
I also dealt with the challenges created by generations of inadequate state and federal infrastructure funding. With just enough resources to repave every lane-mile of street only every hundred years or so, I faced a constant battle with that natural enemy of every mayor: potholes. In a community where more than a quarter of our residents lived in poverty, we worked to fill in the gaps that were created when underfunded transit resources left too many cut off from opportunity, just because they did not have the means to own a car.
At its best, transportation makes the American Dream possible, getting people and goods to where they need to be, directly and indirectly creating good-paying jobs. At its worst, misguided policies and missed opportunities can reinforce racial and economic inequality, dividing or isolating neighborhoods, undermining government’s basic role of empowering Americans to thrive.
Now, we have a historic opportunity. This administration can deliver policies and resources in transportation that will create jobs, rise to the climate challenge, and equitably serve all Americans. America has given President-elect Biden a mandate to build back better--and step one in building back better, literally, is to build.
Americans should not settle for less than our peers in the developed world when it comes to our roads and bridges, our railways and transit systems. The U.S. should lead the way—and under this administration, I know it will. We’ll bring together leaders and communities from every corner—labor and business, left right and center, urban and rural, communities of color, tribal nations, all who have a stake in American infrastructure--to design a better future. Americans expect us to associate the idea of “infrastructure week” with results, and never again let it be a media punch line.
My view of this opportunity is also shaped by being the youngest member named so far to this cabinet, and the first Millennial to be at that table. Newer generations have a lot at stake in infrastructure policy that, by its nature, must contemplate both the immediate and the long-term. The question of how America will look by the middle of this century--the competitiveness of our economy, the security of our climate--for me this is not academic, it’s personal.
I am also mindful of the eyes of history on this appointment – knowing this is the first time an American president has ever sent an openly LGBTQ cabinet nominee to the Senate for confirmation.
I can remember watching the news, seventeen years old, and seeing a story about an appointee of President Clinton, named to be an ambassador, attacked and ultimately denied a vote in the Senate, because he was gay - ultimately able to serve only by a recess appointment.
I followed that story closely. I had no aspirations, then, of being appointed by a president to anything—at that age, I was hoping to be an airline pilot. And I was a long way from coming out, even to myself. But still, I watched, and I learned about some of the limits that exist in this country when it comes to who is allowed to belong at which tables. And just as important, I saw how those limits could be challenged.
So, two decades later, I can’t help but think of a seventeen-year-old who might be watching right now, someone who wonders whether and where they belong in the world, or even in their own family, and I’m thinking about the message today’s announcement is sending to them.
So thank you, Mr. President-elect, for the commitment to diversity that you are showing as you assemble this administration. And thank you, Madam Vice President-elect, for your trailblazing leadership, your encouragement, and your friendship.
There is no greater source of meaning in professional life than the chance to serve others. I felt it every time I laced up my boots when I was in the military. I felt it every day serving my community as mayor. And I feel it here today, joining this historic team, with such an important mission, as we prepare to deliver for all Americans.
Win the Era PAC
PO Box 1226
South Bend, IN 46624
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