SIU’s Paul Simon Institute hosts Ray and Darin LaHood Oct. 30
The political careers of a well-known Illinois political father-son duo and a special program that looks to the next 25 years of Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s Paul Simon Public Policy Institute is set for Oct. 30.
“An Illinois Political Family: A Conversation with Congressman Darin LaHood and former U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood” will be at 6 p.m. in the SIU Student Center Auditorium. A reception will be at 5 p.m. in the Student Center’s International Lounge. RSVP by Monday, Oct. 23, is encouraged but not required.
“We expect our conversation with them will shed light on recent Illinois political history and give us a sense of how the state can meet future challenges,” said John Shaw, institute director. “This will be the first time that the LaHoods have done a joint public event, and we expect a fun and free-wheeling exchange.”
Ray LaHood’s 36-year career in public service included representing Illinois’ 18th congressional district, which included Peoria, from 1995 to 2009. A Republican, LaHood’s bipartisan approach was widely respected, and he served as the U.S. Department of Transportation secretary under President Barack Obama from 2009 to 2013.
Ray LaHood is the author of the 2015 book “Seeking Bipartisanship: My Life in Politics” and is a senior adviser to the Dirksen Congressional Center in Pekin.
LaHood’s son, Darin, has represented Illinois’ 18th congressional district since 2015. Following redistricting, LaHood was drawn into the state’s new 16th congressional district, which includes 21 counties in central and northwestern Illinois and more than 725,000 residents. Initially sworn in after winning a special election in 2015, Darin LaHood won a fourth full term in November 2022.
A former federal and state prosecutor, Darin LaHood served four years in the Illinois state senate before his election to Congress. His committee assignments include the House Ways and Means Committee and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
Event celebrates institute
The program will celebrate the institute’s first 25 years and look to the future. Former U.S. Senator Paul Simon created the public policy institute after he retired from the Senate in 1997 and served as its director until his death in December 2003.
Simon’s daughter, Sheila, an assistant professor at the SIU School of Law, and his son, Martin, are both involved with the institute, with Martin Simon serving as chair of the institute’s board of counselors. Sheila Simon believes her father would be “really pleased with what is being discussed at the policy institute and thrilled that it is still thriving as an SIU student experience,” she said. He would also be “absolutely thrilled” with the virtual discussions with political leaders and authors that more people are now able to attend.
When exploring the idea of starting a public policy institute, Paul Simon was given an option to teach at other schools with larger endowments, but he wanted to be at SIU Carbondale.
“He liked the students here and wanted to make sure that students who didn’t have every advantage coming into the college would be the ones who would learn about politics and government, and be inspired to do that themselves,” she said.
Looking to future
While the institute is acknowledging past accomplishments, Shaw noted it is also planning ahead.
“We are thinking about — and preparing for — the next 25 years,” he said. “The institute will continue to promote constructive and future-oriented public policies and encourage students to consider careers in public service. Paul Simon’s remarkable career points the way to a better approach to politics and governance in Illinois and across the United States.”
Sheila Simon believes the institute continues her father’s vision “in an ongoing way.”
“What he wanted to achieve was having more conversations about policy and about the future of our state and our country and bring more people into that conversation,” she said. “I think that all of those are being accomplished on a regular basis.”
Foundation was ‘respect’
Sheila Simon noted that her father would “certainly would have admired Ray LaHood’s spirit of being a Republican working with Democrats.” Paul Simon’s foundation for bipartisanship was respect, she said.
“Dad had respect for people who had firmly held beliefs, even if they were different than his, and was willing to always see how we can work together,” she said.