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

By Sara Fischer, CNN
May 5, 2014 -- Updated 1204 GMT (2004 HKT)
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.

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