Election week should not end without a salute to the outstanding 36-year congressional career of James Oberstar, who lost his bid for a 19th term on Tuesday. This academically gifted son of an iron miner became the nation's leading architect of transportation and infrastructure policy. Countless millions of Americans today enjoy the benefits of the road, rail, bridge, air, transit, trail and water projects he championed.
Oberstar was always on the side of the working people of his northeastern Minnesota Eighth District. But he often acted in service to the whole state. One memorable episode: his quick response in August 2007, when the Interstate 35W bridge fell in Minneapolis.
Within an hour of the collapse, he was on the floor of the House calling for assistance. Within 48 hours, he had shepherded through Congress a bill authorizing full federal funding of the replacement structure.
An avid bicyclist, Oberstar helped Minnesota become one of the most bicycle-friendly states in the nation. The trail infrastructure he promoted will be a quality-of-life attraction in this state for generations to come.
I came to know Oberstar well in 1984, when he made an energetic but unsuccessful bid for the DFL nod to challenge then-U.S. Sen. Rudy Boschwitz. He treated the journalists who covered him through a contentious endorsement contest with courtesy and respect.
Back then Oberstar had a sizable DFL antiabortion wing firmly in his corner. It may have been the erosion of antiabortion support after his courageous vote in favor of federal health reform legislation that led to his narrow loss to Republican newcomer Chip Cravaack. Oberstar demonstrated with that vote that he put the good of the whole ahead of the fears of a narrow interest.
There are many worse grounds on which to lose an election.
Tina Fey as Sarah Palin, during an appearance on "Late Night with David Letterman'' this week: "The Mama Grizzlies are going to Washington, and they're going to flip your picnic table."