U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar told a story Saturday of helping find federal financing for a new community/business center for the Leech Lake Band of Objiwe after the band was turned down by two Republicans.
"That's what I do -- economic development," Oberstar said he told the late Tribal Chairman Hartley White in the early 1980s. "Tell me what your project is."
Oberstar said he secured U.S. Economic Development Administration funding for the $1.2 million project, and saw that the tribe's construction company was qualified to do the job.
At that time, the Leech Lake Reservation wasn't even in the Democrat's 8th District.
"Being representative means that you represent people - to do that you have to listen tol them and hear what their needs are and concerns are," says Oberstar. "You then translate those into legislative action or changing of the attitudes of bureaucracies, and make government work for people."
And Oberstar want to work for people in a 19th term, as he kicked off his re-election campaign Saturday in North Branch, Duluth, Bemidji and Brainerd.
In Bemidji, he was met by about 30 people late Saturday afternoon at the Cabin Coffeehouse. Also there were Sen. Mary Olson, DFL-Bemidji, and Reps. John Persell, DFL-Bemidji, and Brita Sailer, DFL-Park Rapids.
He spoke of building relationships through the years, such as with the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, Such partnerships have been good for northeast Minnesota, he said.
He also laid out progress under the federal economic stimulus measure, which he said has created 1.3 million jobs in 15 months, including 10,700 construction jobs in Minnesota.
The hiring of 1.3 million Americans has provided $489 million in federal income revenue, and prevented $383 million from being spent on unemployment compensation.
"It has made a difference in people's lives," Oberstar said, telling about a visit he made to Bemidji last summer and saw sewer and water pipe replaced along Irvine Avenue - a federal stimulus project.
"Old rusted pipes 75 years old out of the ground and new pipe to go into the ground that the Operating Engineers (Local 49ers) were installing," he said. "I get excited about things like that, to see people working. I know that the new pipe going in was made from iron ore pellets produced on the Iron Range and went to lower (Great) Lakes steel mills that made the steel to produce the pipe that went into the ground and put people to work here."
He called a circle that benefits all.
A report card shows the economic stimulus package reconstructed 34,434 lane miles of highway, including 534 lane miles in Minnesota. It paid for 12,062 bridge replacements or repairs, 120 in Minnesota.
Seniors were given a $250 check, and the third phase of a minimum wage law hike went into effect. Congress also passed and Obama signed a pay equity bill.
"Children's health insurance -- we passed it, Obama signed it, 4 million children have it," Oberstar said.
Congress also approved and Obama signed a health care reform bill, something that had been on the table since the days of President Harry S Truman, he said.
One Republican voted for Social Security in 1935 and only one Republican voted to bring Medicare to the House floor in 1965, Oberstar said. No Republicans supported the current health care bill.
"They're consistent," he said. "They haven't been for it in 70 years. But what does it do for you? You can't be denied coverage, you can't be capped, you can't lose your health care, there is no lifetime limit, there are no limits annually on your coverage, your children will be covered t age 26, free preventive care for seniors under Medicare."
People won't be denied coverage because of a pre-existing condition, he said. "They can't drop you when you get sick. There's temporary insurance for early retirees. There are tax credits for small businesses.
"That is health insurance -- that is good government -- that is an investment in the future well-being of this nation," Oberstar said.
Oberstar was introduced by a number of people, including the the three legislators, and representatives of tribal government, labor and education.
Gina Bernard, Bemidji High School teacher and vice president of the Bemidji Education Association, said the economic stimulus package provided $1 billion to Minnesota, including $4 million to Bemidji.
"The vast majority of this money went to education, almost half of it to keep money flowing to local school districts," Bernard said. Bemidji received $1.2 million for special education and about $800,000 for the district's Title I program.
"Without this stimulus money, the damage to our schools and student education would have been much greater," Bernard said. "We know there's still financial trouble ahead. It's good to know that Rep. Oberstar's at our back."
Olson said Oberstar on many occasions has come to the State Capitol to chastise legislators and Gov. Tim Pawlenty for turning down federal funds by not providing matching funds.
"Congressman Oberstar has seen us pass up hundreds of millions of dollars that could be putting working Minnesotans to work right now," she said.
"He's also been a very strong advocate locally in making sure that we had some road projects that have kept people working through this very difficult time," Olson said.
"This election is about the future," Oberstar said. "This is about America's future. This is about our well-being."