Transit and Transportation at Stake in Several Key Races

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(Alex Goldmark, Transportation Nation) We've been closely watching the intersection of transportation and politics on this site.  Here are a few races where transportation may affect the outcome, or where the outcome may affect transportation.

The race: Maryland Governor -- Repub. Bob Ehrlich,  Dem. Martin O’Malley

What's at stake: It's a race of rail vs bus. The two candidates each support extending some form of public transit to the area of Maryland in the Washington D.C. suburbs. O'Malley wants the proposed Purple Line while Erlich prefers a bus plan. Maryland is a deep blue state, so Ehrlich's chances aren't great. But O'Malley isn't hugely popular and this is not a good year for Democrats nationwide, so an upset is always possible and the Purple Line hangs in the balance. (Read more.)

The race: 8th Congressional District, Minnesota -- Incumbent Dem. Jim Oberstar, Chair of House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Repub. Chip Cravaack

What's at stake: Congressional control. Oberstar is currently the Chair of the Congressional transportation committee. He's in charge of the purse strings on countless transportation and infrastructure projects around the nation. He's called for a massive transportation funding package that would be less likely to pass without a champion at the helm of transportation committee. Even if Oberstar holds on in this tighter-than-expected race, he may lose his chairmanship if Republicans take control of the House.   The ranking member of the House Transportation Committee is Republican John Mica of Florida, who, like Oberstar, has been a champion of increased transportation funding and high speed rail.  In fact, Mica and Oberstar have joined to assail the Obama administration for not making transportation spending a higher priority.

"I view this as the most critical jobs bill before Congress ... we're going to do it together, one way or another, come hell or high water," Mica said in 2009 of the transportation bill.  But it's unclear how Mica would hew to this agenda with a much more conservative, less spending-friendly congress. (Read more from MPR)

The race: Ohio Governor -- Incumbent Dem. Ted Strickland, Repub. John Kasich

What's at stake: High speed rail spending. Kasich has proposed repurposing the

$400 million in stimulus money set aside for faster trains serving Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, and Cincinnati, and using that money for roads. In fact, infrastructure spending overall in Ohio seems to begetting a luke warm reception even in down-ticket congressional races.

The race: Wisconsin Governor -- Repub. Scott Walker, Dem. Tom Barrett

What's at stake: Money for rail. Walker wants to take stimulus money for rail service and use it for roads. He even took a roads-over-rails stand on the airwaves in this campaign spot against a proposed Madison-to-Milwaukee rail line. Rather than build the $810 million dollar federally-funded “boondoggle,” Walker says, he’d like to “fix Wisconsin’s crumbling roads and bridges.” (Read more.)

The race: Hillsborough County, Florida Referendum -- ballot initiative

What's at stake: Transit tax. County voters will decide if they want a one cent sales tax devoted to transportation. Much of it would go to construction of light rail. This ballot initiative in a swing county in a swing state could be viewed as a bell weather for public support for transit and infrastructure spending. (Read more on voter sentiment on this tax)

The race:  Florida Governor -- Repub. Rick Scott, Dem. Alex Sink

What's at stake: High Speed Rail. Florida has already received over $2 billion in federal funds to construct one of the nations first true high speed rail lines between Orlando and Tampa. Scott is against funding this with state money. He's said the Federal Government should pay 100 percent of the cost, a stance that could hamper progress, or reverse it. He has said  (Read, and watch more)

The race: California Governor -- Repub. Meg Whitman, Dem. Jerry Brown

What's at stake:High Speed Rail. Ambitious plans for high speed rail are already under way funded in large part—over $9 billion—with state bond money approved by voter initiative additional Federal money in the pipeline. So, its not exactly clear how much power the governor would have the fate of HSR on the West Coast. Still, Whitman has said, she the project is too expensive for the state to take on right now, while Democrat Jerry Brown sees the expense as an investment that will pay off in jobs and improved transportation infrastructure.

The race: Minnesota Governor --  Repub. Tom Emmer, Independence Party Tom Horner, Dem. Mark Dayton.

What's at stake: Funding methods. The candidates all agree on the goals in broad strokes: not raising the state's gas tax and expanding bus service. The question in this race is how to fund those priorities, debt, taxes, or cost cuts elsewhere. (Read more.)

The race:  Colorado Governor Dem. John Hickenlooper is in a three-way race with Repub. Dan Maes and Conservative Tom Tancredo.

What's at stake:  Transit funding. In 2004, Hickenlooper championed a measure to add a 0.4 percent sales tax to fund one of the most ambitious transit expansions in the nation, adding about 150 miles of light rail and bus rapid transit to the Denver area.   Hickenlooper has also made Denver one of the first three U.S. cities to get a bike-share, which opponent Maes has suggested is a United Nations plot.  Tancredo is mostly known for his 2008 bid for President, where he ran on a platform of cracking down on illegal immigrants.

This year Tancredo is running on an anti-regulation, anti-tax platform, and has promised to "refuse federal dollars that come with unsustainable, long-term state spending commitments or harmful federal mandates."

Happy voting! Not sure where you vote? Here's how to find out.

And check back tomorrow to see how these transportation races turn out.