Heather J. Gradison resigned Thursday as chairwoman of the Interstate Commerce Commission rather than face a tough reconfirmation fight in the Senate.
"The White House and I have concluded it was not in our interest to fight the Senate Commerce Committee," said Gradison, a member of the commission since 1982 and its chairwoman since December, 1985. She said she will leave when a successor is confirmed.
The White House did not respond immediately to a request for comment.
Sen. J. James Exon (D-Neb.), a member of the committee, said Gradison, wife of Rep. Willis D. Gradison Jr. (R-Ohio), probably would not have been reconfirmed.
"Most of the Democrats and most of the Republicans on the Commerce Committee had the feeling that she had not during her term followed the intent of the Railroad Deregulation Act," said Exon, reached in Nebraska. Asked whether he would have voted for reconfirmation, Exon said: "I would not."
The senator called Gradison "a dedicated and talented woman," but said, "We felt that the President could select someone that would be maybe a little more in tune with what the Congress intended when they wrote that bill."
The act that freed railroads from government regulation had provisions to protect the so-called captive shipper--the coal mine operator or wheat farmer who had only one a single source of transportation available.
Under the act, the ICC could hold hearings and bring pressure to bear on railroads if it felt that they were out of line, Exon said. "We felt that under Gradison, the ICC did not perform as was intended."
Gradison, 36, had spent eight years in the railroad industry with the Southern Railway System when she was appointed as one of the five ICC commissioners by President Reagan. She is a strong supporter of transportation deregulation and, said the ICC in a news release, she "firmly maintained throughout her tenure that reduced governmental regulation encourages the development of new and better ways for transportation companies to serve the public."
Exon said, however, that she did little to help the captive shipper.
"One of the classic cases in this regard was the Public Power Co. in Nebraska being charged exorbitant rates by the railroad," he said. "The company took it to the ICC, which said it couldn't or wouldn't do anything about it."
The case went to court, he said, and the railroad was ordered to pay back a substantial amount of money.
Gradison announced her resignation to about 100 co-workers in a brief and emotional speech.
"I think it's time to move on," Gradison said.
Her voice breaking, Gradison said: "I think the time has come to take advantage of the free market opportunity I have talked about and find some for myself."