Civil tone marks Cravaack's town hall meeting in NE Minn.

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Chip Cravaack
U.S. Rep. Chip Cravaack of Minnesota's 8th Congressional District speaks at a town hall at Deer River High School in Deer River, Minn. on Tuesday, August 9, 2011.
MPR Photo/Dan Kraker

At a town hall meeting Tuesday night in Deer River, U.S. Rep. Chip Cravaack faced his constituents for the first time since he announced his family would be moving to New Hampshire.

The conversation was civil between the new Republican congressman and the audience from the 8th District, a longtime DFL stronghold.

Last November, Craavack shocked the political establishment when he ousted Jim Oberstar, Minnesota's longest serving congressman. He did it with a focus on cutting spending and reining in the federal deficit. And that was his emphasis again speaking to constituents in the Deer River High School cafeteria.

"The enemy that we face right now is ourselves, unless we do something about our debt," he said. "It's an all hands on deck operation at this point. And unless we as Americans come together and fix this problem, we are going over the edge."

Cravaack ran through a 15 minute Power Point presentation on the severity of the federal debt crisis to about 100 people who drove to Deer River from across the region. He repeatedly stressed the burden the debt will place on future generations.

"To be honest with you that's how I got involved, because I saw the amount of debt that was being placed on our kids," he said.

Cravaack is a retired Navy Captain, and a retired pilot for Northwest Airlines. He was also a union member, and told the crowd he has bucked his Republican Party to support labor unions. He also struck a bipartisan note by acknowledging that Republicans are equally to blame for the country's debt crisis.

"It's taken a long time to get here, and a lot of people have a lot of fingers in the pie," he said. "I don't care who created it, I really don't, I want to solve the problem for my kids."

Several members of the audience criticized Republican plans to overhaul Medicare and cut spending without raising taxes on the wealthy. His controversial vote against raising the debt ceiling was not addressed. But Jackie Dowell of Grand Rapids did bring up his family's move out of state to New Hampshire.

"The irony of this certainly strikes many of us who supported Mr. Oberstar," Dowell said. "Even though he wasn't in the area frequently, he knew what the Iron Range is all about."

Cravaack explained that his wife was promoted to a job on the East Coast. He said they tried commuting, with babysitters around the clock. But he said it didn't work for his family. Now he'll spend Saturdays in the 8th District, and Sundays in New England.

"That's what we have to do with our family," he said. "I always took Sundays off to be with my family. I'll continue to do that, except I'll probably be on a plane."

After the town hall, Dowell said she thinks Cravaack's move will hurt him in the next election.

"There are people that recognize that he's a stranger in a strange land," she said. "I don't think he's really in tune with the people in northeast Minnesota. I think he's, a gee, should I say it? A carpetbagger of sorts."

But others who voted against Cravaack in the last election are keeping an open mind.

"I couldn't say I would or would not vote for him today. I'd want to see who's running against him, and what their standpoint is as well," said Dan Kingsley of Hill City, a representative of the Local 49 Union of heavy equipment operators. "I believe he's doing a pretty fair job of promoting industry in the area. At the same time, I don't agree with some of his taxing ideas."

And the politics will likely get heated here in the 8th District, where three DFLers have announced their intent to challenge Cravaack: Duluth City Council member Jeff Anderson, former state Sen. Tarryl Clark and former U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan.

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