Today Congress honors an Iron Ranger

This evening at 5:30 the House of Representatives is slated to offer its tribute to departing U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar (D-MN8), the outgoing House Transportation and Infrastructure Chair. Check out C-SPAN.

There might be a lot of dispute about Oberstar’s politics but his legacy in Congress for the latter 20th century into this 21st is well worth noting today. From my take Oberstar offered something unique and important to this generation of our region, something that a rotating churn of populists (what awaits us) will never deliver. He offered a stable view of the region, became a political touchstone, and won funding for infrastructure that, while within the bounds of criticism, did propel the district’s economy during a challenging period.

Oberstar is among the last of a generation of Congressional representatives who, instead of flying home on weekends and containing votes and business to Tuesdays-Thursdays, took the views of his constituents with him and spent the session living and working with members of both parties. The shared common goal was keeping the American experiment going strong in accordance with the needs of its people.

Critics might rightly say that this approach separates a representative from the people he or she represents, turning them over to a tainted world of Washington largess. On the other hand, others have suggested that the practice of flying home to constantly raise money, surrounded by the most partisan, extreme people you can imagine, has differently depraved our system. The ideal, in this case, probably rests between these two approaches.

But Jim Oberstar has offered his service and paid his political price. Today I salute him and thank him for 36 years of work on behalf of northern Minnesota.


  1. Mr. Oberstar was the consummate “bread slicer”. He had no idea how to “bake bread”.

    As you say, he “won funding”, but never any mention of how he “created funds” in the first place. It wasn’t in his DNA to do so.

  2. Although Oberstar married into money later in life, he didn’t come from money. I would guess that the expense drain of flying back and forth wasn’t worth the extra time needed to raise that money.

    I’ve read that some of the supposedly idealistic, but not well-healed, new representatives get a dose of reality when they move to Washington and have to pay rent/buy a house there, PLUS maintain a residence back home, PLUS raise travel expenses for all the trips back and forth. And, they are expected to attend fund raisers galore to fund the next election. It isn’t always the life that they imagined. The salary doesn’t cover these things.

    For years, I’ve heard Oberstar on the radio during times when transportation issues were hot in the news. He had learned a great deal about the details of the various systems. I respected his expertise.

    The new congress people will being some idealism and energy, but they don’t bring the experience and knowledge of legislating that the veterans have gained. Some of the new people will bring experiences in “doing” in the realm of small business, but not the experience of working with others with different perspectives and haven’t done negotiating in government.

    Our system provided a constant turn over of people. We can be glad that we don’t get all new people all the time.

    There are few people on this earth who can be successful in an office job, government job, business world job and still bake their own bread or grow their own food or split their own wood. I know that Anon means this metaphorically, but the reality is that when we move into one type of work, there are other things that get left behind.

  3. We agree P.S…His expertise was in taking wealth others produced and dividing it up to his liking. His definition of winning..of success was how much of the pie can I take…not bake the pie.

    Never did he teach us how to create things (wealth) in the first place..

  4. Well, easy to criticize. What have you done in that regard?

    And where in the job description of being a Representative is there anything about actually creating jobs? It is all to easy to criticize the Dems for not making new jobs. True enough. But what about when the Reps were in power and millions of jobs were lost? Do you really think that now that the Reps have greater numbers in Washington, that it will be different than it was in their 8 years there? Only time will tell. If history repeats itself, during Rep times, the economy goes in one direction, and it isn’t toward the people who actually do the work. During Dem times, the economy tends to help people with practical matters which, in turn, brings everything up.

    At least with Oberstar, the transportation issues he worked on were accomplished by real people working at real jobs building real roads, etc. The new Rep gov in Wisconsin has effectively lost those types of jobs for Wisconsin laborers because of his opposition to the new train system. His opposition will probably lose that system for other mid western states as well. We can disagree on the merits of that system, but my point is that such projects create jobs and now the jobs will go to other states. Dem governors elsewhere are lobbying for those dollars.

    In any case, with such projects, there are people who are forward thinking and people who won’t move on anything until is a completely safe bet. If all of us were in the later category, we’d still live in caves. No one would get a mortgage for a home, for example. (although we did build without a mortgage, so that isn’t 100%) The world does best with a combination of creative dreamers and practical people who ask the hard questions.

  5. It was not Jim Oberstar’s job to “create wealth.” It was his job to make sure that the people of the 8th CD got value in exchange for their federal taxes. He did that brilliantly for 36 years. The idiots who call federal funding for infrastructure “pork” can take credit for the I-35 bridge collapse and the disgraceful condition of other Minnesota bridges and roads. The conservative obsession with “creating wealth” instead of fulfilling one’s responsibility to the larger community accounts for most of what’s wrong with this country. If you’re too stupid to understand that Jim Oberstar did exactly what he was elected to do, then you deserve to be represented by Chip Cravaack, who is clearly clueless about what the job of a Congressman really is.

  6. Geez guys and gals…All we were doing is talking about honoring good ol’ Jim for things he did. I simply said one of his real strengths was how to divide up other peoples money.

    Then you go bring up Wisconsin?, trains?, lobbyists?, I-35 bridge? (that was under good ol’ Jim’s watch by the way)..and Chip??

    What the heck do those things have to do with honoring good ol’ Jim?

    I mentioned one thing he shouldn’t be honored for – his lack of interest in making the state and it’s people wealthier. And you turn it into a divisive political issue…We’ll so be it.

    Oh – One other thing I wouldn’t honor him for and that is…being a gratious loser

  7. Hang on there Marsha…

    If we’re going to honor good ol’ Jim for “value in exchange for our federal taxes paid…and doing it brilliantly for 36 years”, don’t buy him a very big trophy.

    Minnesota has been one of the biggest donors (paying in more federal taxes and receiving back) for the past 29 years….most of ol’ Jim’s career. We get back $0.72 for every dollar paid.

    2005 Figures (A review of annual data from 1981 thru 2005 showed state rankings to be fairly consistent from year-to-year – Tax Foundation)

    Federal Spending Received per Dollar of Taxes Paid

    10 Biggest Receivers

    1. New Mexico $2.03
    2. Mississippi $2.02
    3. Alaska $1.84
    4. Louisiana $1.78
    5. West Virginia $1.76
    6. North Dakota $1.68
    7. Alabama $1.66
    8. South Dakota $1.53
    9. Kentucky $1.51
    10. Virginia $1.51

    10 Biggest Donators

    1. New Jersey $0.61
    2. Nevada $0.65
    3. Connecticut $0.69
    4. New Hampshire $0.71
    5. Minnesota $0.72
    6. Illinois $0.75
    7. Delaware $0.77
    8. California $0.78
    9. New York $0.79
    10. Colorado $0.81

    This brings up both something to honor him for – being benevolent, and to not honor him for – bringing home the bacon. He knew how to “cut the pie”, just not in Minnesotans favor..

  8. Pulling a “Palin” maybe? “nuf said.

  9. Well…you can try to refudiate but use facts, please.

  10. Way to go, Aaron … Trying to break that 50+ comment record on here? : )

    Just quietly say “Oberstar” and watch all the anonymous comments fly!!

    I bet you’ll even start to get the “I really liked your post … check out my pictures at …”

    Pretty soon you should get crazy pop-up advertising or something and make the big-money : )



    Thanks Mr. Oberstar for representing the people of the Iron Range for 36 years.

  11. I’m glad you noticed the magic word, Amy. 🙂 I wish I could make money off this.

    I’m going to limit my debates to people who post signed comments, just like in my newspaper days. No more secrets.

  12. I thank Mr. Oberstar for his years of service to the Iron Range. I salute you and am honored to know you. Your years of dedication should inspire us all to give back to our community. It has been an honor to have you represent 8CD. The fruits of your labors will continue to bloom for many years to come. Your legacy will not be forgotten.

  13. Uh oh…I sense the Eurphorians and Mysterians incestuously closing ranks. So much for open-mindedness…good luck! “nuf said.

  14. Hubert H. Humphrey says

    I’m going to limit my debates to people who post signed comments, just like in my newspaper days. No more secrets.

    Do we have to sign our real names?

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