Oberstar ponders possible chairmanship
Jim Oberstar got himself back to Congress for another Minnesota record-setting term Tuesday by defeating challenger Rod Grams, but whether he'll get his dream job as chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee was out of his...
Jim Oberstar got himself back to Congress for another Minnesota record-setting term Tuesday by defeating challenger Rod Grams, but whether he'll get his dream job as chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee was out of his hands.
If Democrats retake control of the U.S. House -- it appeared likely but too close to call late Tuesday -- Oberstar is a lock to gain the powerful committee chairman position that would give him a huge national voice in deciding highway, shipping, Coast Guard, port, construction, aviation and other key issues.
Oberstar has now extended his tenure as Minnesota's longest-serving congressman, heading into his 17th consecutive term that will total 34 years.
Oberstar looked to win about two-thirds of the votes across the district. He was pulling nearly three of four votes in early Duluth returns, and even higher percentages on the Iron Range, his traditional strongholds.
An avid bicyclist in excellent health, Oberstar, 72, responded with a resounding "Hell, no!'' when asked if this might be his last term.
"There is so much more I want to do ... and as chairman, if this keeps going our way across the country, I'll be in that much better position to get more done,'' Oberstar told the News Tribune.
Already drafting an agenda if he takes the committee helm from Alaska Republican Don Young, Oberstar said new locks and deeper channels on the Great Lakes and Mississippi River, improved funding for municipal water and sewage plants, and efforts to bolster the Coast Guard and Federal Aviation Administration would top his list.
"This isn't going to be payback time with Democrats, at least not in this committee. I just got a call from Don Young and he said he looks forward to continue working with me. We have to do this together,'' Oberstar said.
Since the 1974 DFL primary, Oberstar has had a relatively easy go of it, winning most of his elections by 25 points or more, one of the safest districts in the nation. Most of the races saw little advertising and little controversy, with Republicans offering mostly sacrificial lambs to battle the DFLer.
But Grams, 58, offered a well-known figure with a solid political background -- eight years in the House and Senate in Washington -- and gave Oberstar his toughest battle to date.
"What we tried to do was push the issues we thought were important, namely jobs and the economy and Jim's failure to turn that around,'' Grams said late Tuesday. "We wanted to make a change to make the area more conducive to businesses coming here. And we wanted to focus on the fact Jim hadn't lived here in so long.''
But several of Grams claims regarding Oberstar's travel and lack of trips home turned out to be false. For example, he vastly understated how often Oberstar returned to the region last year and implied that Oberstar had not visited International Falls in the past two years when, in fact, the incumbent had been there six times.
Byron Toole of Duluth said he voted for Oberstar because of the incumbent's efforts to help Northeastern Minnesota.
"I like Oberstar, the work he's done for our area,'' Toole said. "I'm a Democrat, and he's a good Democrat.''
But others said it was time for a change.
"I don't think anybody should be in there as long as he (Oberstar) has,'' said Laurie Kelner of Duluth's Lakeside neighborhood. "I'm usually a Democrat, but I voted for Grams.''