Skip to main content

Former U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar of Minnesota dies at 79

By Sara Fischer, CNN
updated 8:04 AM EDT, Mon May 5, 2014
James Oberstar, Minnesota's longest-serving member of Congress, held office from from 1975 to 2011.
James Oberstar, Minnesota's longest-serving member of Congress, held office from from 1975 to 2011.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Jim Oberstar represented Minnesota's 8th congressional district for over a quarter century
  • Oberstar was elected in 1974 as a member of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party
  • President Obama: "Jim cared deeply about the people of Minnesota"
  • NEW: President Clinton: "Jim was a good friend, a true and tireless public servant"

(CNN) -- Former U.S. Rep. James "Jim" Oberstar, who represented Minnesota's 8th congressional district for over a quarter century, has died. Oberstar was 79.

Oberstar was elected in 1974 as a member of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, known as DFL, and held his seat from 1975 to 2011. He was elected among one of the largest classes of freshman Democrats in the House after the Watergate scandal broke in 1974.

President Barack Obama praised Oberstar for his commitment to the people of Minnesota.

"Jim cared deeply about the people of Minnesota, devoting his 36 years of service to improving America's infrastructure, creating opportunity for hardworking Minnesotans, and building a strong economy for future generations of Americans," Obama said in a statement released by the White House.

President Bill Clinton remembered Minnesota's longest-serving Congressman as a tireless public servant.

"Jim was a devoted friend and supporter of the Haitian people. I relied on him for advice on Haiti first as President and again after the terrible Haitian earthquake in 2010," Clinton said in a statement.

Oberstar was the state's longest-serving member of Congress. He became chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in 2006. In a close race, he lost to Republican challenger Chip Cravaack in the Republican House takeover in 2010.

"Jim Oberstar knew everything there was to know about our nation's infrastructure, and fought tirelessly to rebuild and renew it," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said.

"... His passing is heartbreaking news for his friends and former colleagues from both sides of the aisle. It was an honor and a privilege to work alongside him, and we only hope it is a comfort to his wife Jean, his children and his grandchildren that so many share in their loss at this sad time."

Minnesota officials are mourning Oberstar's loss.

DFL Party Chairman Ken Martin said that the state lost a true Minnesota legend. Gov. Mark Dayton called him a "true champion" for Minnesota. Sen. Amy Klobuchar tweeted he was a "man of true purpose and grit."

Oberstar is survived by his wife, four children and eight grandchildren.

People we've lost in 2014

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 7:08 PM EDT, Sun August 24, 2014
Click through our gallery to remember those we lost this year.
updated 3:54 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Acclaimed actor-director Richard Attenborough has died at 90, the actor's agent said.
updated 6:03 PM EDT, Sun August 24, 2014
The founder of the University of Phoenix, Dr. John G. Sperling, has died. He was 93.
updated 11:54 AM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
Don Pardo, the announcer whose velvety baritone voice introduced "Saturday Night Live" hosts on NBC for decades, has died at age 96.
updated 3:34 PM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
Jim Jeffords, who shifted the balance of power in the Senate when he bolted from the Republican Party in 2001, died at age 80.
updated 5:32 PM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Former Z-Boys skater Jay Adams died after a heart attack while vacationing in Mexico with his wife. He was 53.
updated 7:35 PM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Actress Arlene Martel, who "Star Trek" fans know as Spock's bride-to-be, died of complications from a heart attack. Martel was 78.
updated 4:48 PM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
Ed Nelson, best known for playing a doctor in the 1960s nighttime soap opera "Peyton Place," has died at 85.
updated 11:08 PM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
Actress Lauren Bacall, known for her distinctive, husky voice and sultry sensuality, has died at age 89.
updated 10:19 PM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
Robin Williams, who first made America laugh and eventually touched "every element of the human spirit" in a remarkable range of performances, died at age 63.
updated 4:15 PM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
Charles Keating, best known for his role as villain Carl Hutchins on the NBC soap opera "Another World," has died at 72.
updated 7:35 AM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
JJ Murphy, an actor who was set to join the "Game of Thrones" cast, died at age 86.
updated 3:19 PM EDT, Wed August 6, 2014
Actress Marilyn Burn, a "scream queen" in the original "Texas Chainsaw Massacre," has died at age 64.
updated 7:50 AM EDT, Tue August 5, 2014
James Brady, former press secretary to Ronald Reagan who was severely wounded in a 1981 assassination attempt on the President, has died at age 73.
updated 9:25 AM EDT, Thu July 31, 2014
Nearly 69 years ago, Theodore "Dutch" Van Kirk navigated a U.S. B-29 Superfortress called the Enola Gay over Hiroshima, Japan, on a sunny August day.
updated 5:39 PM EDT, Tue July 29, 2014
James Shigeta, a prolific and pioneering Asian-American actor whose 50-year career includes the movies "Die Hard" and "Flower Drum Song," has died at age 81.
updated 9:42 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Actress Skye McCole Bartusiak, who played Mel Gibson's youngest daughter in "The Patriot," has died at age 21.
updated 9:34 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
James Garner, the understated, wisecracking everyman actor who enjoyed multi-generational success on both the small and big screen, has died. He was 86.
updated 7:27 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Actress Elaine Stritch, known for her brash persona, gravelly voice and versatility over seven decades on Broadway, has died at age 89.
updated 12:28 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
American blues guitarist and singer Johnny Winter died in a hotel room in Switzerland at age 70.
updated 5:59 PM EDT, Mon July 14, 2014
Nadine Gordimer, the Nobel Prize-winning South African author and anti-apartheid activist, has died at age 90.
ADVERTISEMENT