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  • Honoring the Life of Former Congressman Jim Oberstar

    by Representative Earl Blumenauer

    Posted on 2014-05-07

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    BLUMENAUER. Mr. Speaker, today is National Bike to School Day. How fitting is it that Congressman Jim Oberstar's family's request for the remembrance of our beloved Jim is a contribution to the National Safe Routes to School program? Tens of thousands of children can get to school today more safely and millions will be more safe in the future because of his tireless efforts over two decades on behalf of that program.

    Jim Oberstar, I must confess, was like an uncle to me. Together, we spent [[Page H3452]] hundreds and hundreds of hours in consultation, planning, touring, and legislating. It was the most effective mentoring possible.

    There are those who have been known as ``a man of the House,'' and Jim Oberstar certainly was ``a man of the people's House.'' But even more, he was a man of the T&I Committee, the Public Works Committee.

    He rose through the staff ranks to become staff director. Then, succeeding his Congressman, Congressman Blatnik, he became a Member of Congress, and ultimately became its chair. This is something no one else has done, serving as staff director of a committee and then ultimately presiding over it.

    As staff, committee member, or chair, or as a member of all the subcommittees, whether in the majority or minority, Jim Oberstar had an outsized influence on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee for decades. It is safe to say that over the last 50 years no one had more influence than Jim.

    For almost 20 years he was the top Democrat, but most feel he was the top member, period. He was totally seeped in policy, the history, and the mechanics of transportation. But it was not just transportation. It was aviation, marine, the waterways, and waterworks of America as well. They were all his areas of expertise.

    Jim Oberstar was a partisan--and not necessarily a political partisan, but he was an infrastructure partisan. A true expert. That is why his partnership with Congressman Bud Shuster, although they were of different parties, was so effective. Bud was Jim's partner for years on the committee, even before either of them assumed their respective top leadership positions.

    Infrastructure came first, partisanship second.

    One of my most vivid memories was how our Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, under the leadership of Jim Oberstar and Bud Shuster, beat Speaker Gingrich and President Clinton when it mattered on our highway bill in 1997.

    Jim was a man of remarkable memory and learning. He spoke a half- dozen languages. He never stopped fighting for what he believed in and what he knew for his district, his State, or for the American people.

    He was a man of faith that never wavered. But as much as he loved the job of being Congressman, his people, his bicycle, his first love was his family. I don't think he ever recovered from the loss of his first wife, Jo, but then he found Jean. They were married 20 years. They were a remarkable team.

    Jean is a knowledgeable and experienced transportation professional in her own right. She knew what Jim's speeches were about. In fact, she could encourage him occasionally, in good humor, to shorten them just a little bit.

    Over the years, dozens of members of my staff felt in a sense that they worked for Jim Oberstar as well, because of his commitment, his skill, and his innate decency. I am hearing of their sense of loss from people around the country.

    We all knew that Jim Oberstar had a lot to say. What he said was worth listening to. America is a better place not just because of what he said, but what he did in a remarkable career spanning almost 50 years.

    Few people had more lasting impact on this institution of Congress and on America than Jim Oberstar. We are all richer for his life of outstanding service.


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