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U.S. House 8th District: Cravaack appeals to younger Rangers

Chip Cravaack, the Republican candidate for U.S. House in the 8th Congressional District, listens to a Water and Land Rights Forum held in Bemidji last week. He opposes Clean Water Act amendments as proposed by U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar, the 8th District Democrat. Pioneer Photo/ Monte Draper

In a congressional district that hasn't seen a Republican congressman in more than 60 years, Chip Cravaack works hard to change that picture.

A retired U.S. Navy pilot and former Northwest Airlines pilot, Cravaack has traveled the Iron Range, including union halls, drumming up support.

"Truth is an easy thing to sell," he said in an interview last week. "You stick with the truth, stick with the statistics, get rid of the rhetoric. I view myself as a conservative running on the Republican ticket."

As he visits with union members across the Range, they are still seeking jobs, Cravaack said. They are still waiting for new non-iron ore mining operations to start.

"Jobs, the economy, that's the main issue in the 8th District," says Cravaack, who hopes to upset U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar, DFL-8th District, and chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

"Small business owners are afraid to invest in their own business to create jobs," he said. "Miners, when you start talking to them about this cap-and-trade bill and how it's going to affect the mines, you've got their attention."

The House last year passed a bill calling for cap-and-trade policies to control carbon emissions in which carbon producers would pay to purchase carbon credits from under-producers. Oberstar voted for the bill, which since then has languished in the Senate.

"I really try to talk to just the people, not the unions, but the members of the unions," says Cravaack, who was a member of a commercial pilots union. "Those are the guys are going to be voting. ... The union will tell them to vote for jobs, well, I'm all about jobs."

Cap-and-trade policies will devastate the mining industry, he said.

"The cap-and-trade bill is going to increase electrical costs on mines 40 t0 50 percent," he said. The average electrical costs of a small open pit mine is $1.6 million, he said. "You add 50 percent to that, it makes our ore non-competitive and those guys are out of work."

Small business owners won't expand because they don't know how "Obamacare," the federal health care reform bill, will affect them, he said. That also is a bill Oberstar supported. "Their backs are against the wall."

Small business is the industry in many of the small towns throughout the 8th District, he said.

Oberstar is also the author of the America's Commitment to Clean Water Act, which Cravaack says gives too much jurisdiction over water to the federal government. It was the subject of a forum Cravaack attended Thursday night in Bemidji.

"It has nothing to do about clean water and everything to do about jurisdiction of the waters," Cravaack said. "It's just a huge over-reach of the federal government."

He notes that Minnesota statutes, sponsored by Iron Ranger Democrats Sen. Tom Bakk and Rep. Tom Rukavina, "said that Minnesota will vigorously defend our waters against all forms, and here is our congressman coming in with a federal bill that will actually fly in the face of our own Constitution."

He recognizes that Oberstar, as chairman of the Transportation Committee, is in a position to steer a lot of road and bridge money to Minnesota, but Cravaack looks to the bigger picture of federal deficits.

"Whenever I hear pork, I see the deficit," he said. "The deficit has doubled in the last eight years. I don't care who started it ... it's got to stop because we are putting an undue amount of pressure on our children to pay off all this debt."

He thinks of his sons, ages 6 and 9, headed off to school. "I think of opening up their backpacks, putting in a 50-pound rock, zip it back up and say, son, you're going to have to hump this the rest of your life. That is exactly what we are doing to our kids."

The federal debt is increasing at $3.8 billion a day, he said. "It's unsustainable. We cannot continue down this path."

Rather than jobs through short-term pork funding, Cravaack would rather see long-term career jobs created. That would include opening the non-ferrous plants on the Iron Range, which have been bucking environmentalists.

"The 8th District, in itself, as a small country, would be rich," Cravaack says, "because of tourism, people like coming up to the 8th District; we have an abundance of timber; we have taconite; we have two of the richest metal mines in the world; we have an excellent railroad infrastructure system; we have an electronic grid to back it up; we have a seaport in Duluth; we have a very educated population and we have a very specialized work group in our miners and our loggers.

"Yet we're one of the most recessed areas in the country," he said. "Why is that? Taxation and regulation."

Under Oberstar's water bill, loggers would need a permit to cross a pond, he alleges.

"Congressman Oberstar, I'm sure, was a very good congressman at one time," Cravaack said. "I truly believe that. His heart was in the right place. But right now, he's making laws that are just flying in the face of what's good for the 8th District."