Rep. Oberstar Remembered as 'Mr. Transportation'


June 2014


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Affectionately known as “Mr. Transportation,” Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.) was a powerful champion to all transportation-related industries, including maritime. To the SIU, he was a close friend and ally – someone who fought tirelessly for the maritime industry, including the U.S. Merchant Marine.


Oberstar died May 3. He was 79 years old.


“Congressman Oberstar was someone who understood what was needed to make the U.S.-flag maritime industry work, whether it was on the Lakes, the rivers or the seas,” said SIU President Michael Sacco. “He worked for everyone and is greatly missed.”


Oberstar – Minnesota’s longest-serving congressman (1975-2011) – was known for his bipartisan, results-focused approach to governing. He rose to the chairmanship of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, where he was able to protect the maritime industry from potentially dangerous legislation, while also guiding federal dollars to vital maritime programs.


He was particularly celebrated for his work with the Great Lakes region. U.S.-flag Great Lakes carriers flew their vessels’ flags at half-mast May 8 in Oberstar’s honor.


Oberstar received many maritime-related accolades during his time in Congress. Those honors include the Propeller Club’s Salute to Congress award in 2000 and being named the first Legislator of the Year by the Great Lakes Maritime Task Force when the group launched the award in 1999.


“Great Lakes shipping has lost its greatest friend and staunchest supporter,” said James Weakly, president of the Lake Carriers’ Association. “He was at the forefront of every effort to make waterborne commerce on the Lakes and Seaway safer and more efficient.”


Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.), an SIU ally and strong maritime advocate, also paid tribute to Oberstar, calling him a “brilliant and kind man.”


“No one knew more about transportation policy than him,” Garamendi said. “Just last Wednesday, I talked with him about strategies to pass a good transportation bill. I will miss him. The nation has lost a tremendous public servant.”


President Barack Obama also praised Oberstar for “devoting his 36 years of public service to improving America’s infrastructure, creating opportunity for hard-working Minnesotans and building a strong economy for future generations of Americans.”


Nearly 500 people attended a funeral service for Oberstar May 8 at a church in Potomac, Md. Speakers included members of Oberstar’s family and Minnesota’s congressional delegation. Formal tributes were also scheduled to take place on the floor of the House of Representatives May 19, with both a moment of silence and tributes shown on C-SPAN.


During the funeral service, according to The Pioneer Press, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) called Oberstar “a man of purpose and grit, as resilient as the people he represented in northern Minnesota,” adding that Oberstar was dedicated to doing what was right, rather than what was politically convenient.


“In this day of sound bites and quick fixes … he was not afraid to give the long explanation to his constituents,” Klobuchar said. “There is no question Jim Oberstar left this Earth a better place than he found it.”



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