The only Republican cabinet secretary in President Obama's administration, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, has decided to toss bipartisanship aside, get off the sidelines and weigh in on a hotly contested race this week: the election of the next Miss America. In a blog post on Monday, LaHood, a former Illinois congressman, officially endorsed Miss South Dakota and urged people to vote for her in the "America's Choice" segment of the pageant, where the public gets a chance to help pick the winner.
It seems rather unusual for a high-ranking federal official to offer such a public endorsement of a beauty queen. (Miss Illinois must be steamed!) But Loren Vaillancourt, the contestant from South Dakota, has apparently won a fan in LaHood by taking up his signature issue: distracted driving. Vaillancourt has made her pageant platform all about keeping teenagers from texting and talking on cell phones while driving. And she's got a personal stake in it all, which seems to have captured LaHood's attention. Vaillancourt's only brother was killed in 2009 while riding in a car with a distracted driver who pulled out in front of a semi. His death prompted his sister to use her platform to raise awareness about the dangers of distracted driving.
Look, I think all of these young women are to be congratulated for their thoughtful service platforms. But Loren Vaillancourt, Miss South Dakota, has taken on a cause that is central to DOT's core priority: safety. And she has done a terrific job raising awareness among young people in South Dakota.
Now, through her partnership with State Farm's "Teen Driver Safety" Facebook page, she is extending her reach. All week at the Miss America pageant, Loren will be posting to the sfteendriving page and--whenever possible--updating her video diary there.
For all that she has done in this fight, she has my vote this week. I hope you'll consider giving her yours.
The new Miss America will be crowned on Saturday. We'll see whether getting the Transportation Secretary's vote helps push Miss South Dakota into the winner's circle.