By Ron Arnold, Executive VP of Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise; reprinted from the Washington Examiner
Political novice Chip Cravaack came out of nowhere and beat one of the most powerful Democrats in the congressional Big Green machine: Minnesota’s longest-serving, 18-term Rep. Jim Oberstar, chairman of an important committee and an influential global warming believer.
Cravaack, 50, won the state’s vast 8th Congressional District — the first Republican to serve there since 1947—by a slim 4,400 votes. It was the year of the Tea Party, Cravaack saw a chink in Oberstar’s armor, and the newcomer’s every-vote-counts campaign worked the district’s 17 counties hard, trumping Oberstar’s 100 percent rating by the League of Conservation Voters.
A Naval Academy graduate (with a master’s degree in education), decorated naval and retired airline pilot, Cravaack sincerely thought he could beat Oberstar, but nobody else did except his wife, Traci. She said she would take care of things at home—they have two sons—so he hit the road. He lives in Lindstrom, in the district’s Republican-leaning south, not far from Minneapolis, but the Democrat vote was concentrated nearly 200 miles north in the Iron Range. Many union miners and steelworkers there felt they couldn’t trust Oberstar because his defiant 2009 vote for the cap-and-trade bill was a vote to kill the mining industry.
That vote hurt Oberstar more than his vote for Obamacare, something Cravaack didn’t see at first — he decided to run because Oberstar snubbed a meeting about health care with local voters. But in September, when Cravaack went to the Minorca Mining facility in a fight for endorsement, he lost to Oberstar by a shockingly close 28-25, and a TV poll showed the incumbent ahead by only one point, 47-46.
Cravaack courted the Iron Range, promoting new mines like the multi-mineral PolyMet mine and others to supplement the huge iron industry. Don Parmeter — a native of northern Minnesota, 35-year veteran of environmental politics, and co-chairman of the National Water & Conservation Alliance—said the entire district was worried about a different Oberstar monstrosity: the Clean Water Restoration Act. Oberstar wrote and introduced it as chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
Unbelievably, it removed the word “navigable” from “waters of the United States” and substituted a list of more than 15 kinds of wet places (including “sandflats”) and all watersheds, ending with the horrifying clause “are subject to the legislative power of Congress.” Parmeter said, “Federal control over all watersheds means every square inch of America. It wasn’t even about water; it was a total land grab. And the media began to report it. It never passed.”
Then, during a rowdy, emotional, packed-auditorium debate in Duluth two weeks before Election Day, Oberstar made a fatal error. Cravaack had just said, “We must get rid of regulations. I trust you with your money. He trusts the government with your money,” pointing at Oberstar.
Then Oberstar warned that global warming was destroying everything and we must pass cap-and- trade regulations, to loud jeers and booing. Oberstar looked out at his audience and arrogantly said, “Global warming is real. You must be members of the Flat Earth Society.” “Insulting the constituency is what killed his vote,” said Parmeter. The Duluth News-Tribune quickly endorsed Cravaack.
When I interviewed Cravaak, I asked what his first priority was. He said, “I’m going to do everything I can to get those new mines permitted, operating, and creating jobs. This is a tremendous opportunity for economic recovery.”
Perhaps as a Christmas present to residents in Minnesota’s 8th Congressional District, the Republican leadership appointed Cravaack to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
Washington Examiner contributor Ron Arnold is executive vice president of the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise.