Our view: Numbers fail to support claims of Cravaack's criticsU.S. Rep. Chip Cravaack may not have been the one to paint the target that’s on his back this election season — but he provided plenty of paint.
By: News Tribune editorial board, Duluth News Tribune
U.S. Rep. Chip Cravaack may not have been the one to paint the target that’s on his back this election season — but he provided plenty of paint.
Two years ago, when he ousted longtime Congressman Jim Oberstar, he did so, in part, by convincing voters the Democratic fixture had grown out of touch with his 8th Congressional District and that he scarcely even lived in Minnesota anymore, opting instead to live with his wife in a million-dollar mansion in Maryland. Then, just months after his stunning upset, Cravaack announced his own family would be moving out of Minnesota to New Hampshire, closer to where his wife had taken a promotion. The freshman congressman would stay behind and would spend Saturdays back home in Minnesota, it was reported.
Cravaack’s opponents, including from organized labor and from the Democratic Party, seethed with skepticism about his supposed “home in Minnesota.” They quickly tallied up Saturdays. Then they pounced.
“That’s just 52 days a year,” the North East Area Labor Council marveled in a news release it handed out at a rally in North Branch, Minn., where Cravaack continues to maintain a residence.
“He’s the height of hypocrisy,” DFL Chairman Ken Martin charged of Cravaack during an interview earlier this month with the News Tribune Opinion page. “Cravaack hammered Oberstar on this, on not being in the district. Then what does he do? He does exactly that.”
It’s no secret Democrats are eyeing Cravaack’s seat. It was theirs for decades, after all, since back in 1946 when John Blatnik was first elected to the U.S. House. Oberstar, a fellow native of Chisholm, replaced Blatnik. Minnesota’s 8th District turned red two years ago when Cravaack was elected, one of 84 Republican freshmen buoyed by the Tea Party.
Democrats need to recapture 25 seats this year to win back control of the House. They see Cravaack as vulnerable. And now they have their attack strategy.
Only one problem.
No matter what anyone may have predicted, Cravaack has been spending far more than a day a week back home in Minnesota, working with constituents and staying in touch with their needs and challenges. In 2011, he spent 164 days in Minnesota’s 8th District, or more than three days a week, according to the pages of the congressman’s official calendar and schedule, access to which was granted exclusively to the News Tribune Opinion page. Cravaack spent another 139 “voting days” in Washington, D.C., and 19 other days working at various spots around the world.
He spent only 11 days in 2011 in New Hampshire, including Dec. 23 and Christmas Eve. His family regularly spends time with him in Minnesota, too, he said in an interview.
“That’s the job, to reach out to people in the 8th District,” Cravaack said. “But it’s good. We’re making it work. My wife is making it work for us.”
Cravaack’s 43 days off in 2011 compares to the 120 days away from work most wage-slave Americans enjoy in any given year, including Saturdays, Sundays, two weeks of vacation time and six major holidays.
That isn’t suggesting Cravaack works harder than anyone else — or that he’s more committed to his constituents back home than others elected to Washington, D.C.
In fact, the number of days Cravaack spends in Washington and back home in Minnesota is quite similar to the Northland’s other representatives in D.C., namely U.S. Sens. Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar. Like Cravaack, they’re in Washington when in session. For the senators that tallied 170 days last year.
Klobuchar spent another 181 days of 2011 back home in Minnesota, her office reported in response to a request from the Opinion page.
“Every senator has to balance being at home with their work to represent their state in Washington,” Klobuchar said in a statement. “Every year I visit all of Minnesota’s 87 counties because it gives me the opportunity to meet with people in every corner of our state. While I would always rather be at home in Minnesota, I have a duty to the people of our state to turn their ideas and concerns into action in Washington.”
Franken spent 160 days in Minnesota in 2011, his office said.
“My favorite thing about being a senator is getting to meet with so many folks back home,” Franken said, also in a statement. “Some of the best legislation that I’ve sponsored comes from ideas that were expressed during meetings I held in Minnesota. Sometimes there are weeks that I’m dragging from long days in the Senate. But when I get off the plane in Minnesota, I am always re-energized about who I’m going to see and what I’m going to learn throughout the state.”
Cravaack long has maintained that his role as a congressman is an extension of his service in the military. The demands and sacrifice are similar — and familiar, said Cravaack, who also grew accustomed to long stretches away from home and away from his family as a commercial airline pilot for Northwest.
“My wife was in management for Northwest for (seven) years, so she gets it,” Cravaack said. “What we’re doing now really isn’t that much different from what our life was before.”
Life changed profoundly for the Cravaack family after the 2010 election.
It changed again about nine months later when Cravaack’s two boys, then 7 and 10, were playing and the older boy banged his head. He lost consciousness and suffered a seizure. An ambulance had to be called.
And a decision had to be made. The boys and their mother moved to New Hampshire near where she worked as an executive for a Danish pharmaceutical company. While Dad bounced between Washington, Minnesota and elsewhere, the rest of the family would be near each other all the time.
In Washington, Cravaack sleeps on an air mattress in his office. His days start at 6:15 a.m. in the gym. He typically starts work by 8 a.m. or 8:15 a.m. He generally doesn’t stop until about 11 p.m. Then he sleeps with his cell phone turned on next to his bed.
Asked about critics who suggest he has abandoned his district, Cravaack said he tunes it out.
Of course, considering the numbers, maybe the critics need to try a different tact.
“It’s rhetoric, and I pretty much ignore rhetoric. I concentrate on what my job is,” he said. “It’s a privilege and it’s an honor to serve. It truly is. We just have to get past the monikers of Democrats and Republicans and work together.”