From the humble town of Marianna, Arkansas ” said to be one of the poorest areas in America ” rose a man who “dared to dream.” Rodney B. Slater’s dreams have taken him all the way from that humble town to Washington, D.C., where he now serves as the Secretary of Transportation. He is only the third Arkansan in American history to hold a position in the President?s Cabinet.
In his nomination speech, President Bill Clinton praised Slater as having “built bridges both of steel and of goodwill to bring people closer together.” Slater oversees a department that has 100,000 employees and a budget of almost $40 billion. Slater’s first job, however, was in a cotton field: The then-6-year-old, born Feb. 23, 1955, wanted to earn money for a bicycle.
After graduation from High School, Slater went to Eastern Michigan University and upon graduation from there returned home to earn a law degree at the University of Arkansas. He then began a long and distinguished career that includes positions as assistant attorney general in the litigation division of the Arkansas State Attorney General’s Office; the Governor’s Special Assistant for Community and Minority Affairs; executive assistant for the economic and community programs for then Governor Clinton; director of governmental relations at Arkansas State University at Jonesboro; and chairmanship of the Arkansas State Highway Commission. He also is a past liaison for the Martin Luther King Jr. Federal Holiday Commission.
Before becoming Secretary, Slater served as administrator of the Federal Highway Administration, where he created the National Highway System, 160,000 miles of roads that will link America in the 21st century as the interstate did in the 20th century. During his four years in this position he up-sized highway investments by 20 percent while downsizing the staff by 10 percent. He also developed an innovative financing program that is allowing hundreds of transportation projects to be built two to three years sooner, on average, at no extra costs to taxpayers.
Slater’s awards include the coveted President’s Award, given by the National Bar Association; the Arkansas Public Transportation Award; and the W Harold Flowers Law Society Lawyer-Citizen Award. Arkansas Times magazine named him an “Arkansas Hero.” Slater also was named on of the Arkansas Jaycees” Ten Outstanding Young Arkansans.
Slater and his wife, Cassandra Wilkins-Slater, have one daughter.