Our view: Hypocrisy? Did DFL overlook a few facts?Several times every week, it seems, the News Tribune receives news releases from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and others taking Republican U.S. Rep. Chip Cravaack to task for a vote or a comment or just for his general political leaning.
Several times every week, it seems, the News Tribune receives news releases from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and others taking Republican U.S. Rep. Chip Cravaack to task for a vote or a comment or just for his general political leaning.
So it goes in the filth-flinging world of politics, where Cravaack and other elected leaders are easy prey for the other side. Neither party seems above such attacks, even in non-election years.
A news release this month — touting a letter DFL Chairman Ken Martin sent to Cravaack, demanding an explanation for “excessive amounts of taxpayer money (spent) on a car” — actually made headlines.
That included a headline in the News Tribune — at the top of Page 1, no less — that was unfortunate and inappropriate in the way it expressed an opinion on a news page. “Spendy wheels,” the headline read, even though the story inside the paper detailed the great lengths Cravaack’s staff went to find the most affordable way for the congressman to do what his constituents want him doing, traveling the district to meet with them, to share information with them and to receive their input and feedback. Leasing a vehicle for $1,000 per month proved cheaper than being reimbursed for mileage at the federal rate of 51 cents per mile, Cravaack’s spokesman Shawn Ryan explained to the News Tribune. Ryan acknowledged the lease price was a bit higher than what most of us could probably negotiate with our neighborhood dealer. But there were three very good reasons for that, he said. Federal law prohibits a lease beyond Cravaack’s two-year term. Most leases are for three years or longer. A shorter-term lease, because it’s an unappealing and less-profitable arrangement for a dealer, is more expensive. Also, because of the massive size of Minnesota’s Eighth Congressional District, Cravaack’s people opted for an annual mileage limit of 30,000 rather than the typical, and cheaper, 12,000-miles-a-year cap. Finally, the car had to meet federal greenhouse gas emission standards. Such cars are typically more costly to lease or to buy.
“What I don’t want to get lost in all this is that the Eighth District now has a representative who is actually traveling around the district meeting with constituents on almost a weekly basis and doing it in the most cost-effective way available to him,” Ryan told the newspaper.
The Minnesota DFL blasted Cravaack for his “supposed concern for fiscal responsibility,” as Martin wrote.
“It’s $1,000 per month! But even more than the number itself, it’s about the hypocrisy,” the Minnesota DFL’s Kristin Sosanie said in an e-mail to the News Tribune editorial board.
If there’s a cheaper alternative to Cravaack’s vehicle lease, residents throughout Minnesota’s Eighth Congressional District surely would love to hear it. The Minnesota DFL didn’t offer up any suggestions — or better deals.
Instead, the party blasted while either ignoring or not realizing that Cravaack has spent less during his time in office than all seven of Minnesota’s other congressional representatives. His $231,493 spent is 26 percent less than the $310,981 spent by fellow Republican Rep. John Kline of Burnsville, Minnesota’s biggest-spending U.S representative since January.
The Minnesota DFL also
mustn’t have compared Cravaack’s lease-related expenses to the in-district transportation expenses incurred by his Democratic predecessor, former U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar.
Cravaack and his office paid $1,700 for the initial lease of the Chevrolet Equinox AWD they use to travel throughout the district. Their monthly lease payments are $1,000. And the monthly amount they spend on gas can be estimated at about $289 if you figure gas at about $3.70 per gallon and that the Equinox is rated to get 32 miles per gallon. The six-month total for the leased car then comes to an estimated $9,434.
By comparison, Oberstar’s office, in the first six months of his final term, spent an apparent $14,637.26 to travel within the district, according to Statements of Disbursements acquired by the News Tribune Opinion page. (The statements, or SODs, are quarterly public reports of all receipts and expenditures of U.S. House members and their offices.) The charges included $4,098 for private auto mileage and $6,839 for three in-district flights. On March 13, 2009, the congressman flew from Blaine, Minn., to Duluth and then back to Blaine at a cost of $1,128.43. Later that month, he flew from Blaine to Minneapolis, a distance of about 31 miles, at a cost of $2,769.14. And in early June 2009 he flew from Blaine to Minneapolis and back to Blaine at a cost of $2,941.74.
A fourth disbursement listing, for “charter airfare” on May 1-2, 2009, doesn’t include details about the charter’s origin or destination. News Tribune archives indicate Oberstar was in Duluth on May 1, 2009, to attend a ceremony commemorating the 50th anniversary of the arrival in the Twin Ports of the first deep-draft oceangoing ship. If he took a charter flight for that and it originated in Washington, D.C., it wouldn’t qualify as in-district transportation. Without its $3,659.53 price tag, Oberstar’s total for in-district transportation expenses during the first six months of his last term in office would be $10,977.73.
Recall, that can be compared to Cravaack’s $9,434 related to the lease of an SUV, for which he was criticized.
“They’re public dollars. You have the public trust to manage a budget well, and we always stayed well within the budget,” Oberstar said in a phone interview yesterday with the News Tribune Opinion page. He returned a call from Colorado, where he’s attending his son’s wedding.
“For years, I had staff drive, and from time to time I rented a car if it was going to be for several days on the road,” he said. “After five or six terms, I realized my time was better spent meeting with people than driving through corn fields or forested roadways. … So if I was in North Branch (Minn.) and needed to be in International Falls, for example, it made more sense to charter (a flight) than to spend six and a half hours driving.”
Said Cravaack in a statement to the Opinion page: “I’ve made it one of my top priorities to travel around the Eighth District to meet with my constituents during congressional recess periods and when I’m home each weekend. Northeastern Minnesota is a big place. We ran the numbers. Leasing a car made sense because it is more cost-effective than reimbursing staff for mileage on their private cars.”
We don’t doubt that during his 36 years in office, Oberstar was careful about how he spent taxpayers’ money.
Just as we’re confident Cravaack is acting as responsibly with his expenditures as he feels he can.
And those sentiments are in spite of any headline or any filth flung in a news release.