Longtime Democratic Congressional Representative Jim Oberstar died last Friday night at the age of 79. Oberstar was first elected to congress in 1974 in the aftermath of the Nixon Watergate scandals, along with other so-called “Watergate babies” California Reps. George Miller and Henry Waxman.
Oberstar represented his home district in northern Minnesota, nicknamed the Iron Range due to the prevalence of iron in the region, District 8. The district includes his home town of Chisolm as well as Duluth, Minnesota’s fourth largest city. Oberstar served his constituents for 18 terms, from 1975 until 2011, making him the longest serving congressman in Minnesota’s history.
Oberstar was a fan and a promoter of cycling, an appropriate hobby for a man who headed the powerful Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. At first considered an unglamorous gig, the tables turned after the tragic collapse of the 35W Bridge in Minneapolis collapsed on August 1, 2007, leaving 13 people dead and 145 others injured. The shocking event brought to the nation’s attention the serious problem of decaying bridges and roads across the country, something that Oberstar had been pointing out all along. As a result Oberstar was able to bring millions of dollars to the state to improve roads, bridges and infrastructure.
“Congressman Oberstar was a true champion for the people of the 8th District, and for our entire state,” Gov. Mark Dayton said in a statement. “He worked tirelessly to bring jobs, economic growth and a better quality of life to his constituents.”
Despite easily winning his district for 18 elections, in 2010 Oberstar was a victim to the Republican wave of support throughout the country. He lost that election to Chip Cravaack, who himself was ousted only two years later by Democrat Nick Nolan. Nolan made his comeback after 32 years away from congress, first being elected in 1974, the same year as Oberstar.
Former chief of staff for Oberstar, Bill Richard, announced that the former congressman died at home in Potomac, Maryland. His death came as a surprise, as he was not suffering from any illness that anyone knew about. The family said they are heartbroken.
“Jim was a loving husband, father, grandfather, friend and brother,” the family statement said. “While we mourn the loss of a good man, we also celebrate his life and his service. We ask for your thoughts and prayers, and understanding, at this very difficult time.”
President Obama offered some words of consolation as well:
“Jim cared deeply about the people of Minnesota, devoting his 36 years of service to improving America’s infrastructure, creating opportunity for hardworking Minnesotans, and building a strong economy for future generations of Americans.”