The transportation community lost one of its policymaking giants in last week's midterm elections when House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman James Oberstar, D-Minn., was defeated by Republican challenger Chip Cravaack after 18 terms in office. An affable gentleman with almost unparalleled influence in the transportation world, Oberstar will leave a big void in talks for the next surface transportation reauthorization. "That's an earth-shaker," said next year's presumptive committee chairman, Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., when National Journal interviewed him after the election.
Oberstar was only the chairman of the committee for four years, and he never got the chance to complete the highway reauthorization process that he began with Mica over a year ago. His contributions to transportation policy over the years include, but aren't limited to, his chairmanship of the Aviation Subcommittee from 1989 to 1995 and as a powerful ranking member of the full committee after that.
As the dust settles and questions swirl about what happens next, it is an appropriate time to take a breath and look back. What role (or roles) did Oberstar play in setting transportation policy as we now know it? What unique characteristics did he bring to the table? Next year during committee talks, how will staffers and lawmakers complete this sentence: "Jim Oberstar would have ______________"?
And last but not least... who has amusing Oberstar stories?