After 36 years in the House of Representatives, Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.) went down to defeat and his congressional seat will be taken over by a former airline pilot, an event that has members of Washington’s general aviation community shaking their heads in disbelief. A Democrat, he was swept away by what he termed “a national wave.”
Oberstar was chairman of the powerful Transportation and Infrastructure Committee when the Democrats controlled the House and served as ranking minority member when Republicans had the lead. At no time in his 18 elections had he received fewer than 59% of the vote. His loss Tuesday was by slightly more than 4,000 votes out of more than 270,000 ballots cast.
Despite his work over the years on aviation and other transportation issues, it was other issues that caused his downfall. According to The Duluth News Tribune, Oberstar faced constituents angered about federal bailouts, stimulus spending and health care reform, which he supported.
One Washington aviation leader said in his opinion no one in the House of Representatives had a greater knowledge of aviation issues than Oberstar. He continually opposed user fees on general aviation and worked diligently to pass reauthorization of the FAA.
A former pilot for Northwest Airlines, Chip Cravaack, will replace Oberstar in the next congress.