(Duluth News Tribune) October 24, 2010 – There’s no denying the enormous, life-changing and positive impacts U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar has had on Northeastern Minnesota. From rescuing Eveleth Taconite to landing Cirrus Aviation for Duluth to making safe the death trap that was Minnesota Highway 8 to getting the Bong Bridge built, his list of achievements practically stretch the length of the massive, 18-county 8th Congressional District, where Oberstar has served admirably as representative since 1974.
But there’s also no escaping the chilling reality of our nation’s economic state. Unemployment hovers around 10 percent, despite stimulus and other efforts to turn the tide. Health-care reform has companies warning employees of the likelihood of increased health-insurance costs. A pair of wars rages. And the national debt stands at a staggering $13.6 trillion and is increasing at an alarming rate of $3.8 billion a day.
The brake pedal of fiscal responsibility is needed in Washington now as much as ever. Although Oberstar voted in 1993 for the biggest debt reduction in post-World War II history, the 17-term incumbent is hardly the embodiment of financial restraint and new direction.
His opponent, on the other hand, Republican Chip Cravaack, represents what Congress, including Minnesota’s 8th Congressional District, needs at this critical crossroads in American history. A pro-business, fiscally conservative, former Navy captain, with a master’s degree in education, Cravaack has smarts. He is articulate, reasoned and composed. More critically, he has specific and promising strategies to pull the nation out of its financial funk.
“This is clearly unsustainable,” Cravaack said last week of our nation’s mounting debt and free-spending ways. “The best thing to correct the situation is to create a business-friendly environment where the private sector creates jobs.”
Speaking at a candidate forum in a packed Duluth Entertainment Convention Center Auditorium, Cravaack vowed to lower taxes paid by businesses, especially smaller businesses, and to remove government regulations and restrictions that impede economy-stimulating private-sector activity.
“You have to get rid of the gridlock,” he said. “What we need to do is invest in business in the United States … so they can invest in themselves and create this great thing called jobs. Then we have money in our pocket and we create further demand and it is a great spiral and we get a robust economy.”
Among the barriers in the way of business is what Cravaack called “job killers.” While acknowledging there are positives to federal health-care reform, Cravaack said the landmark legislation would eliminate jobs because businesses — far too many — anticipate increased costs related to providing health insurance. That could mean staff reductions or hiring freezes, he said.
“Competition is the key to lowering health-care costs,” the candidate said, not more government involvement.
Cravaack called cap and trade a “job killer,” too. Despite its admirable goal of combating global warming, the legislation that limits carbon emissions has the devastating potential of driving up businesses’ electrical and other energy costs. It could have a particularly negative impact on the mining industry, Cravaack pointed out, stating he visited the Iron Range’s Minorca Mine. He said miners and mine officials there are concerned about being able to compete globally with countries that don’t require expensive emissions controls.
An outsider’s perspective
Cravaack is a political novice, but that actually works to his advantage. Washington doesn’t need another insider.
Oberstar is chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. However, if power in the House shifts to the Republicans following the Nov. 2 midterm vote, a possibility that grows more likely by the day, his influence could be diminished. If Democrats retain control, Cravaack would add political balance to Congress.
While Oberstar has long enjoyed endorsements of labor groups, Cravaack can be similarly embraced by hard-working Northeastern Minnesotans. He was a union steward, fighting for his fellow employees, at Northwest Airlines, where he worked as a pilot following his military career.
“I’ve walked picket lines, I’ve been on strike, I’ve been laid off for two years, I’ve had my pay cut in half, pension frozen,” Cravaack said this campaign season in an interview with the Associated Press.
At the candidate forum last week at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center Auditorium, Cravaack’s character shone. Not once did Cravaack respond to the unruly crowd.
Oberstar, meanwhile, retorted at least eight times to some of the rudest of the 1,800 in attendance, provoking even more catcalls. Among the things Oberstar said: “I gather they don’t like to hear the truth.” “I read the bill!” “There they go again.” “Come on.” And, “My goodness, no civility at all.” At one point, when a moan went up over global warming, Oberstar said, “I’m sorry if the flat-Earth society over here doesn’t believe it.”
Give Oberstar credit for not taking guff from a crowd that clearly favored his challenger. Give him points, too, for holding up his hands on at least one occasion to quiet his own supporters and their jeering of Cravaack. His challenger made no such noticeable attempt.
But the incumbent also made an off-the-cuff comment that could only be characterized as offensive. Describing his family’s efforts to get medication for his 9-year-old granddaughter’s pancreatitis, Oberstar said a family member “finally got a human on the line. This is very difficult anymore to do — who speaks English, with an American accent.”
Last week’s forum was just a snapshot — and certainly far from the only one considered and consulted for this endorsement.
For Oberstar, it was one of millions of moments in a political career spanning nearly five decades, beginning with his work for former 8th Congressional District Rep. John Blatnik.
For Cravaack, however, the moment can stand as a first. It can be a promising start to a political career voters of the 8th Congressional District can launch on Nov. 2.
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