WASHINGTON, D.C. — Widespread dissatisfaction with politics is feeding a movement to promote limits on the length of time an elected federal politician may serve. Stripped of all its meaningless rhetoric, that movement boils down to one point: Limit the terms of those with whom I disagree, but don’t touch the ones I admire.
Whatever one’s political persuasion might be, general aviation recently lost a friend who served a long time in the House of Representatives: James Oberstar. Passionate about the need for proper transportation of all types throughout the United States, Oberstar knew well the value of general aviation.
Oberstar, a Democrat, served 18 terms as a representative from the state of Minnesota from 1975 to 2011. His personality, wit, work, and dedication made many a heated discussion about transportation and infrastructure resolvable. He was a long-time chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. GA advocates working the Washington scene recognized Oberstar as a friend regardless of their political views and welcomed him as long as he could serve. He worked both sides of the aisle for transportation, including general aviation.
The current chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), said: “Congress, Minnesota, and the nation have lost a good man who dedicated his life to public service and our country’s transportation system.”
A former chairman of the committee, Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), quickly issued a statement after learning of Oberstar’s passing. “It is with profound sadness that I learned of the passing of my former colleague and good friend.”
President Barack Obama also issued a quick statement commending Oberstar’s “36 years of service to improving America’s infrastructure.”
Groups representing general aviation were quick to let the world know their thoughts about Oberstar. Ed Bolen, president of the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA), said “few Americans have had a bigger impact on our nation’s transportation system than Congressman Jim Oberstar.”
Bolen added Oberstar was a champion of general aviation, understanding and promoting its values to our economy and transportation system.
Mark Baker, president of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), called Oberstar a champion for GA, serving as a voice of reason in Congress, fighting for aviation trust fund dollars to make their way to community airports across the country, and opposing user fees.
Pete Bunce, president of the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA), said Oberstar worked tirelessly to strengthen the transportation infrastructure of the United States and also understood the importance of a healthy general aviation industry. He added that as a graduate of the College of Europe in Bruges, Belgium, Oberstar understood the importance of U.S.-European cooperation on aviation issues and the need to work with legislators and regulators globally to advance aviation safety.
Oberstar began his Washington career in the 1960s as a clerk on the Rivers and Harbors Committee. Later this committee became the transportation committee, which he led. He was defeated in 2010 by Republican Chip Cravaack as a casualty of the wave of victories by the Tea Party. Oberstar’s loss was seen by many as one of the biggest Congressional upsets across the nation.
I watched Jim Oberstar in action and saw him place general aviation high on his work programs to benefit the nation, industries, and communities. He wanted what he thought best for transportation more than he wanted to improve his political position. He was one who gave politicians a good name.
Oberstar died peacefully in his sleep at his Bethesda, Maryland, home the night of May 2. He was 79.