James Louis "Jim" Oberstar, a Chisholm native and son of an underground miner who represented Minnesota's Eighth Congressional District in Congress for more than three decades, died Friday at his home in Maryland.
He was 79, and is survived by his wife, Jean, four children and eight grandchildren.
Oberstar died overnight in his sleep.
The Oberstar family released a statement Saturday morning, saying they are "heartbroken" to share the news.
"Jim was a loving husband, father, grandfather, friend and brother. While we mourn the loss of a good man, we also celebrate his life and his service. We ask for your thoughts and prayers, and understanding, at this very difficult time."
Rep. Betty McCollum was one of the first to publicly comment on the Democratic leader's passing. McCollum wrote on Facebook she is "deeply saddened" by the news.
"Jim was a friend, a mentor, and a public servant of epic stature," she says. "Throughout his career Jim’s commitment to improving America’s transportation system saved thousands of lives, kept millions of Americans on the job, and strengthened Minnesota’s and our nation’s economy. Most of all, Jim Oberstar was a truly wonderful man who was filled with joy and compassion."
Oberstar was first elected to represent Minnesota's Eighth in 1974, beating Republican candidate Jerome Arnold 62-26 percent. He cruised to re-election in the next 17 contests (becoming the longest-serving Congressman in Minnesota history WCCO notes), only once getting below 60 percent of the vote. In 2010, he was unseated by Republican candidate Chip Cravaack, by a margin of about 4,400 votes.
While in office, Oberstar earned a reputation as a leader of transportation policy. For six years (1989-1995) he chaired the Subcommittee on Aviation, then later became the ranking Democrat on the full Transportation Committee. In 2007, he was elected chairman of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.
Governor Mark Dayton released a statement, calling Oberstar "a true champion" for the Eighth District and the entire state.
"He worked tirelessly to bring jobs, economic growth, and a better quality of life to his constituents," Dayton continues. "I extend my deepest condolences to his wife Jean, and his family.”
When Oberstar lost in the 2010 midterm elections, the National Journal wrote "A Tribute to James Oberstar," calling him a "policymaking giant" and an "affable gentleman with almost unparalleled influence in the transportation world."