Cravaack reaches across the crevasse (formerly known as aisle)

So I’m just sitting there, being me (like I always do), and I get a phone call. It’s Chip Cravaack. He’s a pilot. But he’s not just a pilot; he’s running for the GOP endorsement for Congress in Minnesota’s 8th district. And he wants to talk to me, and my readers.

First of all, reader — and I mean you, singular reader who is reading this right now (there haven’t been too many of you lately since my ongoing Waterloo of a novel-writing attempt) — take notice. He’s talking to you.

Lately I’ve been enjoying watching or being a part of productive conversations between people who have fundamental disagreements about political issues. It’s so different from what you see on cable news or even in the actual government that runs the country/state/local political machine near you. If you watch those sources you’d think we were living in a dysfunctional democracy, incapable of avoiding America’s inevitable decline into the small European nation-that-used-to-have-an-empire of your choice (but with guns). I hope we aren’t.

I have had several such conversations with a colleague at work. I explain what I’ve read over at Daily Kos. She tells me what Fox News is saying. Our conversations allow us to better understand opposing viewpoints without having to subject ourselves to the meth-like partisanship of the opposing extremes. It works well. My talk with Chip Cravaack was also productive. We didn’t solve the world’s problems or end up agreeing on a political platform, but we staked out some important, real choices that voters need to consider.

Cravaack is running with hopes of facing U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar (D-Chisholm), a 36-year incumbent and chair of the House Transportation Committee, who is heavily favored to win re-election against any of his Republican challengers. The fiscally progressive, socially conservative Oberstar represents the gold standard of the DFL index in MN-08, easily outperforming DFL legislative, Senate and Presidential candidates over the years. Cravaack is running on the Republican message of fiscal conservatism amid the massive, rising national debt. He’ll need much more than a national wave to be successful.

“I don’t doubt that when [Jim Oberstar] got into Congress he did so for all the right reasons, but the times have changed and we need to take charge of our future,” said Cravaack.

Cravaack believes that the stimulus bill, the health care bill and other current spending is adding up to a disastrous addition to the national debt that threatens future generations. I’d say we agreed on the idea that the national debt as it now stands is untenable and dangerous. We did not discuss the origins of the national debt, an issue at minimum attributable to both parties. And our solution differs. He proposes that earmark and tort reform will suffice as first steps to government cuts and cost savings for things like health care. I’d prefer a more comprehensive approach that included entitlement reform combined with the end of “tax cuts” as a form of political candy. These two viewpoints are different, but not necessarily exclusive.

Later, we talked local politics. Cravaack agreed that the Iron Range needs jobs (not an unusual position to take) and we spent some time discussing my theory that the Iron Range needs a 21st century economy, not just jobs. On the whole this talk was productive, too. The key to the revival of places like the Iron Range is less attached to Democrats and Republicans as it is to the abstract concepts of innovation and attitude.

We differed on a few points. One, he used the line that government needs to operate more like a business. While a more efficient government that responds faster to the “market” of human needs is a probable solution to some problems, I argued that many aspects of government can’t operate exactly like a Fortune 500 business. The nature of caring for the despondently ill, paving roads to rural towns, or educating people below the poverty line are fundamentally unprofitable (on a ledger anyway, if not in cultural value and long term effects). Rather, the term I prefer is that government needs to operate like a well-run nonprofit. But that’s not a very good sound bite, is it?

The most interesting aspect of Cravaack’s message to me was that, while he has lived all over the country and world as an airline and Navy pilot, he seeks to understand the entire 8th district and is trying to learn more. (Yes, friends, he even read my book). Specifically, he stressed to me his Iron Range-friendly understanding of unions and his experiences being on strike and laid off at various points in his career. That seemed an unusual, if politically prudent, approach for a Republican trying to win MN-08.

All told, I had a nice chat with Mr. Cravaack. I wish he, and Republicans in general, would own up to the specifics of their government reductions plans and admit that unpopular reforms to Social Security, Medicare and the defense budget are the only substantive ways to “reduce” government (if that’s the true objective, another point of contention). I’m sure he has his wish-list for me as well.

Cravaack joins 2008 GOP nominee Michael Cummins (who talked to me in 2008), Justin Eichorn, Rob Farnsworth and Darrell Trulson in the pool of candidates that will seek the 2010 GOP endorsement on April 10.


  1. Aaron, good chatting with you as well. One thing we certainly can agree on, we need to find ways to revitalize the Range with long term, good paying jobs that evolve into careers instead of seasonal employment. Cap and Trade and the Clean Water Restoration Act will shut down the mines, kill logging, and devastate our struggling manufacturing firms along with further hampering resort owners and outdoor guides. We may not agree on everything, but bringing jobs and prosperity to the Range is a top priority for both of us.

  2. That being said, (jobs are priority one), I’d enjoy hearing Chip and Aaron’s top three stumbling blocks to job grow on the Range. Let’s define the problem..

  3. I can’t speak for Chip, but I can give you mine, in no particular order:

    1) A focus on local entrepreneurship. The most reliable local, non-mining businesses are often run by local business owners — or owners that came here to open a business — all of them who do so with the desire to live and work in northern Minnesota. Whether their connections are familial or just personal preference, they’d RATHER live and work here than elsewhere if they can help it. Too often our economic dev. strategies involve throwing vast amounts of money at large companies or unproven ones promising a vast but vague number of jobs when, in fact, small loans and grants for either smaller start-ups with good business plans or existing businesses with demonstrated success and hiring power would work better.

    2) This might sound petty, but I think aesthetics might be a job creator. Many Range (and other rural towns) are declining at the center and sprawling at the edges, just like a big city without the population and tax revenue. I think development efforts should focus inward, where they are both more needed and more cost effective. A town that looks better will have a subconscious effect on customers and business people.

    3) Probably the most important, education. I’ll explain. The thing that has separated the Range from other declining rural and rust belt locations has, until recently, been its K-12 and community/tech college education system. It’s better and more versatile than other places, or was. We still do OK on the higher ed side, but I can’t say what’s going to happen after the next budget. But K-12 on the Range — as I’ve said often here — needs to do a regional reorganization and find out how it can best use the available state and local money, and perhaps some consolidation incentive money from the state, to combine districts and preserve the dwindling curriculum in Range schools. Kids first. Kids are jobs waiting to be kept or sent elsewhere.

    Naturally I’d prefer the state return to the “Minnesota Miracle” model for school funding and local government aid to preserve fairness and prevent the decline of regions in transition, but these three fundamental truths are needed regardless of the direction of political winds.

  4. Good points Aaron. I’d agree..improvement in the areas you mention would increase our ability to attract businesses, create more jobs.

    I’ll come at it from just a little different angle. Let’s assume the idea/entrepreneurship phase is done. Let’s assume we have person or company that wants to expand or is looking for a place to start up their business. This is more often than not the case.

    I’d suggest the following five criteria are “top of mind” considerations as to where to locate. Assuming these are in the ballpark, the Range unfortunately has trouble getting past the first criteria. If they do…things really get hung up when it comes to “willing to work with management”. Criteria 4 and 5 aren’t show stoppers, but criteria 5 kills all hope.

    1) Operating costs
    Competitive labor & benefit costs
    Competitive tax structure
    Low utility costs
    Effective but competitive regulatory costs
    Low in and out bound transportation cost
    Raw material availability at competitive costs
    2) Work force
    Positive work attitude
    Open to work variable schedules
    Willing to work with management to improve productivity, reduce waste
    3) Living Environment
    Pride in community
    Low crime rate
    Community active in civic affairs
    Active churches
    Arts & entertainment
    4) Good secondary and post secondary education system
    5) Pro or anti-business environment

  5. Creating a business friendly environment and thereby jobs for Minnesota incorporates the entire issue.  The bottom line for many small and large business owners is that regulations, taxation and a caustic business environment are so oppressive that closing the doors becomes the only recourse.  (South Dakota is actually advertising in Minnesota telling businesses to go there for job growth, less taxes and a more friendly business environment.) I actively encourage reductions in the regulatory and tax burdens that stifle, if not kill, the small business owner and therefore job growth and job expansion.

    Because of the economic crisis, many states are following the same proactive strategy of eliminating or lowering business tax. Many states are very aggressive. The time for tweaking a tax bracket here or lowering a permit fee there is long past for Minnesota’s 8th Congressional District.

    Just to be considered as viable for a business start-up, Minnesota needs to simply eliminate its tax structure on business operations. The cost would be about $600 million. The resulting business activity would increase the revenue from Minnesota’s remaining 35 taxes; more than making up for business taxes.

    Until we turn on the “Open for Business” sign in Minnesota by creating a positive and profitable business environment for employers everything else is just window dressing.  Statistically it is proven that by lowering taxes on corporations and individuals, job growth and tax revenues increase. I have never seen a state, country or economic model that has ever taxed itself into prosperity.  Limiting government influence in a free market economy is vital and allows entrepreneurs the freedom to take calculated risks, receive economic rewards and invest in our economy rather than taking business opportunities to other states or overseas.  

    For many years we have tried using methods other than the ones that are proposed here. Low economic and regulatory burdens along with a positive and productive workforce are the only way businesses will invest in Minnesota and create jobs.  We have to make Minnesota a profitable place for all of us to live.  A high tide raises all ships.

  6. Chip,

    Thanks forgiving such a detailed description of what you’d do for economic growth in this area. I have a few questions for you.

    1. Where do you stand on term limits? Would you support a bill that would limit members of Congress to serving no more than a combined 12 years in a single office (six terms in the house or two terms in the senate)? While I think Jim Oberstar went to Congress with good intentions, the longer people are there the more power hungry they become. I think a lot of our country’s spending problems would go away or be greatly reduced if you couldn’t have people like Ted Kennedy, Robert Byrd, Mitch McConnell, Jim Oberstar serving for as long as they do. While I probably agree with Mitch McConnell philosophically on most things, his main campaign issue in Congress was that he could get a lot more of the goodies for Kentucky since he had so much seniority. Why in the world should one district get so much more money than another district simply because they send the same person to Congress time after time?

    2. Would you support stripping the federal government of as much power as possible, such as eliminating unnecessary executive level departments such as the Department of Education? While I support funding education, this should be done at the state and local levels. To put it mildly, schools in NE Minnesota have many different things to worry about than those in places like Chicago and Washington DC. And if the opportunity never comes to outright eliminate departments, would you vote to kill programs like No Child Left Behind and others that should be done at the state level?

    I appreciate you taking the time to answer these questions.

  7. Anonymous says

    I would hope Chip is willing to fight the taxes at the state level, unlike his incumbent Oberstar. Oberstar used to command respect, but recent polls show he is very beatable.

    Recently, Chief Executive magazine ranked MN 43rd among 50 states in business tax climate. The 43rd ranking is also a drop from 41st. The MN tax climate stifles entrepreneurship.

    A question was also asked recently at a local chamber luncheon of two of Oberstar’s colleague’s, Loren Solberg and Tom Anzelc. The question was which of them has ever authored or supported a tax cut for small business? Both of them answered the same: we haven’t. The one state representative answered that if businesses didn’t pay their taxes “the state would have to release all the criminals from prison and sex-offender’s from prison.”

    Nice answer from an individual who has been in local public office since 1982. Is the phrase ‘term-limit’ ringing any bells?

    1. Fix the terrible MN tax climate

    2. Purge local leadership-too many in power have been there for too long and are ineffective

    3. Work force. Create non-union and union partnership’s

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