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Byberg, Cravaack face uphill battle

Chip Cravaack, a retired U.S. Navy captain and commercial airline pilot, speaks to Beltrami County Republicans Friday night about his bid against U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar, DFL-8th District. He joined Lee Byberg, the Republican-endorsed candidate against U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, DFL-7th District. Pioneer Photo/Brad Swenson

In one of the nation's unique concentrations of congressional power, two newcomers hope to take two long-term Democratic U.S. House seats.

Lee Byberg's goal is to unseat U.S. House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, DFL-7th District, first elected in 1990.

Chip Cravaack's target is U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Jim Oberstar, DFL-8th District, first elected in 1974.

Both Republican-endorsed candidates spoke Friday night to the Beltrami County Republicans' Meet the Candidates dinner at the Bemidji High School Commons. The dinner, with about 250 participants, featured nearly all GOP candidates up and down the ballot.

A retired U.S. Navy pilot, Cravaack lives in Lindstrom with his family, at the southernmost part of the 8th District which includes Duluth and the Iron Range.

"I believe my military background provides the critical national security and foreign policy experience that is going to be absolutely vital in the turbulent times ahead," said Cravaack, who served in both the Pentagon Navy Command Center and NATO strategy and policy division as well as an instructor pilot in Pensacola, Fla.

As a Northwest Airlines pilot, Cravaack said he was in a union that negotiated hard with Northwest. He was a union steward with the Airline Pilots Association.

"I walked more than one picket line," he said. "I've been on strike. I've seen my company go from terrible bankruptcy, merge, become acquired by another company. In the process, I lost 10 years of hard-fought seniority with the stroke of a pen."

He's now been laid off for two years, Cravaack said.

"When the men and women of the eight district come and talk with me, they talk about layoffs and I understand," he said. "I've been in those shoes and I've walked them."

The biggest issue, he says, "is the fiscal irresponsibility of Congress. ... What they've got to learn is when there is no more money in the checkbook, you stop writing checks."

Government chastises the American people about their fiscal irresponsibility but it continues to rack up huge deficits that will be paid by Americans' children and grandchildren, he said.

It is a "bureaucratic model that has failed and continues to add on debt," Cravaack said. "Our Congress needs to live within its means. Our Congress needs to balance the budget."

Needs from wants need to be separated, he said. Spend only what you can afford, and have the courage and conviction to say "no."

The national debt stands at $13 trillion, he said, and increasing at $3.8 billion a day. The gross domestic product is $14.3 trillion.

"Our Congress, within the last year, has raised our national debt limit twice, up to $14.3 trillion," he said. "That means our debt to GDP ratio is 100 percent."

Conservative estimates put the national debt at $20 trillion in 10 years, Cravaack said, a 139 percent debt to GDP ratio. Currently in Greece, where the economy is close to collapse, its debt to GDP ratio is 110 percent.

"If we don't curb our spending, our taxes will have to double to remain solvent as a country," Cravaack said. "That was before the health care bill was passed."

Cravaack also said American is a beacon for freedom. "If freedom dies here, then who carries that torch?"

"As your congressman, I am prepared to fight, to defend the freedoms guaranteed in our Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic."

That doesn't mean the U.S. needs to undertake a nation-building strategy, but have a pro-active force and well-equipped national security essence to protect the American people and their principles and way of life, he said.

"What Congress can break, Congress can fix," Cravaack said. "But first, we, the people, must fix Congress."

Byberg, by contrast, didn't raise issues but instead gave platitudes about freedom and liberty.

Born in Norway, Byberg later in life became an American citizen. He has also lived extensively in South America. He is an executive with a Willmar poultry company.

Byberg likes to quote from the founding fathers -- Thomas Jefferson, John Adams.

"We live in a time that I believe is challenged," he said Friday night.

He came to the United States in 1982 to attend the University of Minnesota. "I fell in love with the concept that you can pursue your dream, given by your Creator, you can take your talents and develop skills and experiences and create a blessing in your community and for the family that you love."

People all over the world have dreams, too, he said, but they don't talk about the Spanish dream or the French dream. They talk about the American dream.

"Only in America something exceptional happened," Byberg said, in a deep Norwegian brogue. "Brave men and women risked their lives for an idea. They went against the king, against tyranny, against an elite social system and put their faith on their Creator."

The result is Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution, he said. More than 200 years later, three generations have taken place.

The first was of the nation's founding fathers who understood the principles.

The second generation never fought the fight, he said.

"Now today we are living in a time where the third generation has neither the experience nor the knowledge of what it takes to preserve freedom," Byberg said. "That's why it is so important in our history that unless those of us that know freedom and those of us who have fought for America -- unless we choose today to become first-generation Americans ... the American experiment will become history."

Byberg quoted Benjamin Franklin, "Here's your republic, can you keep it?"

When the nation faces incredible odds, then new leaders step up, he said.

"This is our time when we are truly blessed, because today the task is given to us to stand up and recognize that for 30, 40 years we have accepted a gradual change where we departed from our founding fathers," Byberg said. Instead, false ideology was accepted that freedom comes from the state.

"We can choose to stand up again, rich in ability, rich in time, rich in resources, as you dedicate yourself to again be first generation Americans," Byberg said.

The founding fathers gave us a country "where we can speak what we think of, where we can worship the God we honor and where we can pursue economics in those areas with our skills without over-taxation and without burden," Byberg said.

"Either we will recommit ourselves to free enterprise or we will accept that the state is the right giver, and gives all kinds of consequences that will not be in honor of our families, our founding fathers and our future," he said.