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Oberstar looking beyond Beltway

Jim Oberstar told the media and a group of local labor leaders that he's looking forward to serving at the Humphrey Institute at the University of Minnesota, plans on joining with other nongovernmental groups to support transportation causes and ...

Jim Oberstar
Former U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar plans to continue to fight for transportation-related causes, but says he will do so outside the political arena.

Jim Oberstar told the media and a group of local labor leaders that he's looking forward to serving at the Humphrey Institute at the University of Minnesota, plans on joining with other nongovernmental groups to support transportation causes and has talked to presidents Obama and Clinton in recent weeks on helping the earthquake recovery in Haiti.

What the former U.S. representative said he isn't doing is thinking about returning to government.

"I don't think so,'' Oberstar said Monday when asked if he might ever run for elected office again. "I have a great number of opportunities out there... There are a number of other ways to (remain engaged in issues) without being in government.''

Oberstar was in Duluth to attend a luncheon organized by local labor leaders and to visit housing projects that he supported while in office.

Oberstar thanked the labor leaders, saying it was their support that gave him the DFL primary victory in 1974 in his first race for Congress and supported him for 36 years in office. Oberstar was defeated in November by Republican Chip Cravaack of Lindstrom.

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"It's been a privilege, an honor, to serve you, to work hand-in-hand with you to build America,'' Oberstar said to about 50 people at the event at the Radisson Hotel.

Oberstar said he will meet with Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs officials today to outline his "visiting scholar'' role with the Center for Transportation Studies. He said he will lecture on transportation issues "on a fairly regular basis.''

Oberstar said he will also serve on the board of the University's Center for Excellence in Rural Safety, which he helped form with money in a 2005 federal highway bill. Oberstar -- who focused on transportation issues as a congressional aide, a congressman and ultimately as chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee -- is considered a leading national expert on the issue, especially aviation and highway safety.

Oberstar said he also has been talking with several boards and nongovernmental organizations, all related to transportation issues, about possible roles.

Among other items Oberstar discussed Monday:

  • He said he still hasn't talked personally with Cravaack. "No need to. He won the election... This is his time," he said.

    When asked if he had any advice for Cravaack, Oberstar said he would urge the Republican to "stay true to what you committed to doing during the campaign, the Republicans' Contract for America.''

    But Oberstar also predicted that it would be impossible for Cravaack to keep that Republican pledge to cut taxes and spending and still serve his home district well. Oberstar said the House Republicans' plan to cut $100 billion in federal spending is the wrong move at the wrong time, saying the nation should be investing more in infrastructure to remain economically competitive with other nations and to put Americans back to work.

    "If we are going to compete in this global economy we have to invest in high-quality... transportation services,'' Oberstar told the audience.

  • He said he has talked with both Presidents Clinton and Obama about an unspecified role Oberstar might play in the U.S. support of the Haiti earthquake recovery effort now one year after the devastating disaster. Oberstar lived in Haiti before he served in Congress and keeps ties to the island nation's leaders.
  • The longest-serving congressman in Minnesota history, Oberstar said he will keep his family's childhood house in Chisholm and the house he and his wife, Jean, have in suburban Washington, and will spend time at both homes between travels.
  • Oberstar, 76, said he is recovering well from recent rotator cuff issues and is back on his indoor stationary bicycle training to participate in several bicycle events and tours this summer across northern Minnesota.
  • Oberstar said he was having a hard time keeping up with requests for speeches and media interviews, especially now that he has no paid staff and must answer his own calls and e-mails. He said he is learning how to use an iPad his children gave him for Christmas.
  • Bill Richard, Oberstar's longtime chief of staff, is remaining in Washington and politics a bit longer. Oberstar said Richards, who has started a consulting company, has landed at least a temporary position with Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton's administration to be the state's watchdog in Washington.
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    John Myers reports on the outdoors, natural resources and the environment for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at jmyers@duluthnews.com.
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