Back to DC with the Highway 55 Corridor Coalition
This week's trip to DC was different in many ways from the same conference
last March. Instead of being the wide eyed innocent tag alongs, Mark
Johanneck, dealer from Morrie's Bufallo Ford and myself were the now the
"experienced" capitol hill visitors along with newcomer Liz Weir, the
charming and dedicated Medina City Councilwoman.
But DC was different as well. It wasn't only the cherry blossoms that were
missing, it was the enthusiasm for getting a new transportation bill passed
that was so prevalent last year from our entire Minnesota delegation. We did
hear rumors that if the Republican's take control of Congress in the
November elections that the Transportation bill could pass in a lame duck
congress by year end.
Our program started with a breakfast on Wednesday where all 10 of our
elected officials were invited to speak. Those accepting were all
Democrats-Colin Peterson, Tim Walz, Betty McCollum, Amy Klobuchar and Jim
Oberstar. Observing no Republicans were attending the breakfast, Liz
predicted no Republicans would show their faces at our office meetings. The
only one who met us at our scheduled meetings? Michele Bachmann. Michele was
running late so we missed Erik Paulsen, but caught up with him the next day.
Al Franken was no where to be found, but we meet with his delightful staff
person who really listened to us.
Last year each of our meetings in the congressional/senate offices were JUST
our Highway 55 group. This year 4 of our 5 meetings (it was a crazy
afternoon running around the hill) involved at least one other group, which
made it harder to get our message across. The group meetings tell me our
elected officials have put transportation at a lower priority than last
Our country is run by 22 year old staffers. Some of the brightest we met
last year have either gotten married and left DC or have been promoted and
are no longer engaged in transportation. Did I say 22? One staffer seemed so
young his voice was still changing. And another had the zits of a 15 year
old. But these are the people who have time to listen and have the ear of
our elected officials.
Partisanship was prevalent in the breakfast talks, as well as finger
pointing between the House, Senate and the White House. Democratic
Congressman Jim Oberstar, age 75, has been serving Minnesota's 8th district
in Washington for 47 years, 34 of those as a Congressman. Since 2007 he has
chaired the powerful committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. Jim's
life's work has been our nation's transportation system. He has drafted a
bill to completely retool transportation, establish more reliable funding
and drastically reduce the time it takes to get projects completed. This is
the bill he thought he could get enacted by September 2009.
This year Jim Oberstar described his historic bill as "a hill too high for
Mr. Obama to climb." I was so moved to meet this wonderful man who has so
much integrity, who is bipartisan, and so much knowledge as he spoke without
notes with fact after fact. And to be so rebuffed in his life's work by a
President of his own party -tears were rolling down my checks as I felt his
Our meetings completed, the 3 of us went to observe the Senate. The only
Senators present were the presiding one and the 2 debating. The others,
unless they are participating in a debate or are called for a vote, just
have their staff watch on C-Span. Barbara Boxer was speaking and I have to
say I wouldn't let her join my Critical Thinking Club. She tried to make a
case that the oil spill in the Gulf was causing air pollution in California.
She didn't connect the dots. We had enough of that and left to observe the
House. We were lucky to see Jim Oberstar debate a bill he sponsored
regarding releasing coast guard funding for the oil spill. The bill passed
410 to 0 and it was fun to watch Jim literally "cross the aisle" to confer
with the Republicans.
As we walked around DC we spotted a beautiful new building that looked like
a 12 story ship. New buildings are rare in DC. Then I noticed it was the DC
Headquarters for the National Association of Realtors and the headquarters
for RPAC, one of the largest and most influential political action
committees in the nation. Along with about 1.4 million Realtors', I've
helped finance that building so I asked for a tour Its the first LEED
certified building in DC.