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Honoring the Life of a Minnesota Legend: Congressman James L. Oberstar

May 28, 2014
Statements For the Record

Mr. Speaker, on May 3, 2014, our former House colleague and dear friend, Chairman Jim Oberstar, passed away.  Congressman Oberstar served Minnesota and the families of the 8th Congressional District from 1975 to 2011, including four years as chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Prior to being elected, Jim served in the U.S. House for eleven years as a senior staff member on the Public Works Committee.

When I arrived in Congress in 2001, Jim Oberstar was the “dean” of our Minnesota congressional delegation. He was like a big brother to me.  A brilliant legislator and a profoundly gifted man, Jim was also a very kind man, a true gentleman with a huge heart and a hearty laugh.

When I think of Jim and the ten years we served together, I remember a man who loved his family and made sure I always saw the latest photos of the his grandchildren. He loved his work as a national leader and true expert on transportation and infrastructure issues. And, Jim Oberstar loved Minnesota and representing northern Minnesota’s families in the House of Representatives.

Throughout his career Jim’s commitment to improving America’s transportation system saved thousands of lives, kept millions of Americans on the job, and strengthened Minnesota’s and our nation’s economy. During his tenure as chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Jim Oberstar was one of the most powerful men in America.  He moved legislation and with his work on American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, Jim Oberstar ensured millions of Americans stayed on the job and thousands of infrastructure projects were completed across our country.

One transportation project in my congressional district that Jim Oberstar supported and helped to make a reality was the restoration of St. Paul’s Union Depot.  This marvelous train depot is now open for Amtrak service and will soon be open for transit commuters.  Jim loved the grandeur of the train station and the idea of preserving the past as a means of investing in the future.

During his career Jim Oberstar took thousands of votes and was an eloquent and effective champion dozens of issues, including adoption, cancer research, and human rights. There are two instances that I remember vividly when Jim’s voice, his vote, and his strength made a lasting impact on Minnesotans. In 2002, during the debate on whether to authorize military action in Iraq, Jim was a strong voice against the war in Iraq.  I was proud to stand with Jim and Rep. Martin Sabo as the members of the Minnesota House delegation voting to oppose authorizing military action in Iraq.

The other issue that defined Jim Oberstar for me was his tremendous work for Minnesota following the collapse of the I-35W Bridge in Minneapolis on August 1, 2007.  As the chairman of the Transportation Committee, Jim was in the right place at the right time to respond to this terrible tragedy. He moved with incredible speed to draft legislation and get it passed on the House floor within forty-eight hours of the collapse. The bill was signed into law on August 6th – less than one week after the disaster. I have no doubt in my mind had that disaster happened in any other state Jim Oberstar would have reacted in exactly the same manner.

At his funeral, Jim’s daughters and son spoke lovingly and eloquently about their father.  Most of us knew Jim Oberstar was a powerful Member of Congress, but he was also a committed father and a very good man. He cared about working people, the pursuit of social justice, and his Catholic faith.  He loved cycling and made his passion for bicycles into national policy that Americans in every corner of this country take advantage of everyday.

I wish to extend my sincere condolences to Jim’s wife, Jean, and his children – Noelle Tower, Monica Weber, Annie Oberstar, and Ted Link-Oberstar, as well as all of Jim’s grandchildren.

My heartfelt condolences also go out to Jim’s congressional family which includes the many dedicated and loyal staff in his Minnesota and Washington congressional offices and his Transportation and Infrastructure Committee staff.  The hard work and professionalism of Jim’s staff was always evident and I know Jim was very proud of them.

Finally, Jim’s long-time chief-of-staff, Bill Richard, spent decades by his side and was essential to Jim’s success.  I also want to extend my sympathies to Bill for the loss of his friend.

I will always remember Jim as a friend, a mentor, and a public servant of epic stature.  Most of all, Jim Oberstar was a truly wonderful man who lived not only a full life, but a life filled with joy and compassion.