Bicyclists lost an incredible champion in the U.S. Congress last night. James Oberstar, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee lost his seat representing Minnesota’s 8th Congressional district after serving 18 terms in a distinguished career.
I’m not going to lie – I’m depressed.
I’m depressed because the United States Congress lost a decent, honorable public servant who tried so hard to keep alive the bipartisan tradition of the Committee he served for decades. I’m sad because it throws another wrench into the works of passing a badly-needed and long-overdue transportation bill – Oberstar knows the ropes like no one else, and his passion for all things transportation will be sorely missed. I’m sad because he is a proud member of the League and because I’ve had the pleasure of working with him on our issues since the late 1980s when I first arrived on these shores.
And I’m sad because he is a true champion of bicyclists issues in Congress. Over the past 20 years, you can trace many of the gains we’ve made straight back to the desk of Jim Oberstar. Broad eligibility for transportation funds, the Safe Routes to School Program, state bicycle coordinator positions, the requirement to plan for bicyclists at the state and regional level, the non-motorized pilot projects all started with him. So, whichever way you spin it, bicyclists and the bicycling movement have lost a friend in Congress.
Going in to last night, I guess we foresaw a future where he was no longer Chairman of the Committee. Political winds change in Washington all the time and as a bi-partisan, not-for-profit organization we learn to work with all sides of the political spectrum. But a future without Oberstar in Congress, on the Committee, challenging us to keep moving, leading the charge… That’s going to take some adjustment.
We’ll be digesting all the other results and reporting them out on the blog and in our e-news and such. We’re looking over the list of Congressional Bike Caucus members to see who’s back in and who’s out. But I can tell you right now that we are going to miss Congressman James L. Oberstar (D-MN) in Congress. Maybe we’ll get to enjoy his company some more on the road and trail; he’ll be able to break out his League cycling socks more often and put in even more miles on his favorite bikes. I hope so, because if anyone deserves to enjoy the simple pleasure of a bike ride, it’s Jim Oberstar.
Read local news coverage here.
Andy Clarke was appointed to the position of Executive Director in April of 2004 after successfully leading efforts to create, interpret and implement the various transportation programs that are available to improve conditions for bicycling and walking as the League’s State and Local Advocacy Director. Before joining the League in February 2003, Clarke was on contract to provide technical assistance to the highly regarded Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center on site at the Federal Highway Administration. He is on the Board of Directors for America Bikes, and a member of the Association of Pedestrian and Bicycling Professionals.