BAXTER - Rep.-elect Chip Cravaack, the man who knocked off Minnesota's longest-serving congressman, returned to the Brainerd area Tuesday and described his first visit to Washington, D.C. as a newly elected U.S. representative.
He addressed a crowd of supporters at the Holiday Inn Express Hotel and Suites in Baxter after taking part in a round table discussion with business and community leaders.
In a whirlwind visit to Washington, the Republican heard tips on being an effective congressman, started to learn his away around the Capitol and arranged to rent an efficiency apartment.
"My hair was on fire and my ears were pinned back," he said of the brisk pace of the schedule.
While there may have not been much time for reflection, the congressman-to-be described his feelings as walked onto the House floor and up to the speaker's chair.
"I really felt the weight of the office," he said. "I was very humbled at that moment," he said.
He said his sons are taking his election in stride, but noted his 6-year-old still addresses him as "congressman" when he comes home at night.
Cravaack, a retired U.S. Navy and Northwest airlines pilot, said the next two years would be challenging. He said Congress must create a fertile environment for jobs and push back on the federal government. Limiting the size of government, bringing down the deficit and increasing local control would be priorities of the class of 85 new Republican representatives, he said.
"Speaker Boehner heard that loud and clear," he said of Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, the man expected to be elected as the next speaker of the House.
Cravaack declined to offer any reaction to preliminary recommendations by former Republican Sen. Alan Simpson and former Clinton Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles, the chairs of President Barack Obama's deficit commission. He said there have been a number of deficit reduction proposals and he wanted to study them all before commenting.
Questions he fielded from the audience aimed a few jabs at the district's outgoing Rep. Jim Oberstar, D-Minn., and current House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
The first question from the audience was if Speaker Pelosi was as ugly in person as she appeared in the media.
"I'll drop back nine and punt on that," he said.
While he voiced no criticism of Pelosi, Cravaack reported a definite feeling in Washington that there was a "new group of sheriffs in town."
In other questions he was asked whether he would build a bridge in Pillager or appear in public in Spandex, references to Oberstar's enthusiasm for bicycling and his work to secure funding for bicycle trails.
Cravaack said he had not yet decided whether he would continue to maintain a district office in Brainerd. He said he would consider outreach programs in which his representatives would travel to community libraries to reach out to people with less reliance on brick and mortar offices. He did say he would continue the North Branch district office, because of its proximity to his home in Lindstrom.
He said Congress would have to repeal or defund the president's health care legislation, but acknowledged there were not sufficient votes in the Senate to overcome a presidential veto.
Cravaack said it was important for the U.S. to secure its borders before discussing immigration. He said federal projects should be funded because they are important and not because a particular representative might have been in office for 36 years.
The committees he has indicated an interest in serving on include Energy-Commerce, Transportation-Infrastructure (with a particular interest in aviation) and Armed Forces.
Reacting to the initial applause that followed his introduction, he thanked those who worked to bring about his election.
"Well, we did it together, didn't we? It was an all-hands-on-deck operation."
Prompted by the audience, Cravaack recounted the excitement of election night when he defeated Oberstar, who was first elected in 1974. The Republican victory in Minnesota's 8th District became apparent at 3:47 a.m.
"It was a nail-biter," he said. "There were a lot of happy campers."
Dutch Cragun, host of the Brainerd Lakes Chamber event, acknowledged elected officials who attended Cravaack's reception. They included Rep. John Ward, DFL-Brainerd, Pequot Lakes Council member Tom Ryan, newly elected Cass County Commissioner Neal Gaalswyk, Rep. Larry Howes, R-Walker, and Brainerd City Council President Kevin Goedker.