WASHINGTON, D.C. — Is Rep. Jim Oberstar in line to become Secretary of Transportation when a new president is sworn in next January?
He is if Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., has his way. Rahall, who is vice chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee chaired by Oberstar, said Wednesday night he will urge the next president to name Oberstar to the Cabinet position.
And since Oberstar is a superdelegate to the 2008 Democratic National Convention who was an early supporter of likely Democratic nominee Sen. Barack Obama, he would have a good shot at a Cabinet job if Obama were elected.
Rahall made his comments as part of a ceremony unveiling Oberstar’s official portrait in the committee’s Rayburn House Office Building hearing room before an audience that included four previous chairmen, one of whom was Rep. Norman Mineta, who served as Secretary of Transportation under Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, and more than 100 of Oberstar’s colleagues, family and friends.
The 73-year old Oberstar, who came to Washington in 1963 as an aide to the late Rep. John Blatnik, D-Minn., served as staff director when Blatnik was chairman of what was then called the House Public Works Committee. Oberstar took over the seat after Blatnik retired in 1974, and he became chairman last year.
Oberstar is the first member of Congress to serve as chairman of a committee on which he was staff director. And, as another former chairman, ex-Rep. Robert Roe, R-N.J., pointed out, the panel is the only bilingual committee in Congress, thanks to Oberstar’s fluency in French.
A smiling Oberstar
Rahall, who emceed the event, called the 73-year-old Oberstar “the true builder of America,” and declared, “This committee has done more for this nation than any other committee.”
Oberstar paid tribute to his wife, Jean, and daughter, Anne Prager, to his colleagues and aides, and to Minnesota artist Leslie Bowman, who painted his portrait over a period of eight months. Bowman, who is from Burnsville, said it is unusual for the subject of an oil portrait to be smiling, but she chose to portray Oberstar smiling because “it looked so warm and natural.”
In an oblique reference to Roe’s question about where Oberstar’s portrait would hang in relation to those of Blatnik, Mineta, Roe, Rep. Don Young and former Rep. Bud Shuster, Oberstar said, “I don’t worry about where my portrait goes, but maybe it’ll be next to Blatnik, and in the quiet of the evening, we’ll have a quiet conversation” about what Roe described as “building bridges to everywhere.”
Albert Eisele, a former Washington correspondent for the Duluth News-Tribune and St. Paul Dispatch Pioneer Press, is editor-at-large and founding editor of The Hill, a newspaper that covers Congress.