Our View: Let Oberstar continue his run of service in Congress
If taconite is to be shipped to China or other world markets, what is the cost per ton of sending pellets by rail over the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific versus the all-water route through the Great Lakes and Panama Canal from Duluth? Or is the w...
If taconite is to be shipped to China or other world markets, what is the cost per ton of sending pellets by rail over the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific versus the all-water route through the Great Lakes and Panama Canal from Duluth? Or is the water journey made cheaper yet by bypassing Duluth in favor of Taconite Harbor?
If no one else, one person who can compute those figures in his head while factoring in all the ramifications of global trade, weather and the political winds of change is Rep. Jim Oberstar. It's not an exaggeration -- he explained that exact intricacy to the News Tribune's editorial board, analyzing the comparison down to pennies per ton.
Transportation of people and goods is crucial to the Northland, and the ranking minority member of the House Transportation Committee -- and possibly its next chairman -- well understands that. His efforts secured $120 million for the region in last year's highway bill alone. His imprint is on everything from the Lakewalk and the Interstate 35 extension to the widening of Highway 53.
And he also shows the ability, rare in Congress, to change his positions when circumstances change, most recently in co-sponsoring a measure to deep-six the anti-competitive Wright Amendment that restricts commercial air travel out of Dallas' Love Field. Though it's still up in the air, the repeal of the law could encourage Southwest Airlines to serve Minnesota and Duluth.
Oberstar is also a backer of resuming passenger rail service between Duluth and the Twin Cities, further enhancing the business and recreational connection between the Northland and the metro area.
Oberstar has well-represented the district and delivered for it for 32 years. He shows no sign of slowing down and should return to Washington to continue the job.
A Republican senator from Minnesota from 1995-2001, Rod Grams if elected would make history as the only former senator to subsequently represent his state in the U.S. House.
Among Grams' criticisms of Oberstar is his charge that the millions the longtime representative brings to the region is only pork with no long-term plan for growth. "If that new highway doesn't have a job at the end of it, it's a road to nowhere," Grams states.
Yet he also extends blame for squandering the surplus gained under the Clinton years to the rest of Congress, as well as the Bush administration. "I'm not happy about that," Grams says. "I worry about the debt we're leaving our kids."
To counter that, he's running on an economic platform that calls for opening up more national forest lands to logging and year-round use of the Port of Duluth and Superior, making comparisons to seafaring and shipping in Norway. Oberstar calls that unrealistic, noting that the Nordic nation is surrounded by salt water that has a different freezing point and accusing Grams of wanting to "repeal the laws of nature."
The sparring was indicative of a harsh campaign in which Grams made much of Oberstar's frequent travel and pricey Maryland home. Yet Grams himself still owns a Washington, D.C., condo, of which he says, "I don't know what it's worth now."
While Grams' experience as a senator would be an asset for getting things done in Washington, Oberstar's effectiveness is serving the district well.
Harry Welty had run for office numerous times before finally winning a seat on the Duluth School Board. During his service there from 1995 to 2003, he received praise as a moderate who could get things done.
A writer and former teacher, Welty describes himself as a 35-year moderate Republican who would caucus with the Democratic Party if elected to Congress. He offers realistic and sobering ideas on the war in Iraq and the economy, harkening back to the Republicanism of years past for whom fiscal conservatism was tantamount while allowing for social caring.
Welty's quest is hampered, however, by his peculiar route to the ballot, in which he sought but could not obtain an Independence Party endorsement and discovered instead the Unity Party, a more-or-less online creation based in California. His motivations, nonetheless, appear sincere and he brings a different voice to the race.