Amy Klobuchar, Minnesota’s senior U.S. Senator, is regularly mentioned as a potential Democratic presidential contender. After serving for eight years as the county attorney for Hennepin County, which includes Minneapolis, she was first elected to the Senate in 2006. Klobuchar graduated magna cum laude from Yale in 1982 with a B.A. in political science; while on campus, she was a member of the College Democrats and the Feminist Caucus.
The Politic: If you weren’t in your current job, what would you be doing?
Amy Klobuchar: Well, oh boy. I have to think about this. I think I would most likely be doing some kind of legal job. I love being county attorney. And I also had thought about doing some work on some of the issues I really care about like the economy. And I represented businesses in the past, but right now I see this huge gap with people not having the skills that they need to tap the jobs that we have available now. And I think that has been very big ticket item that our country needs to focus on. We’re going to see more and more technology and things that are taking away jobs, and we have to think big about how we’re going to make sure that there’s jobs for workers today because of driverless cars, things like that. So if I was outside of this job, I would probably be working on those kinds of policy issues.
You’ve said in the past that in college you worked a construction job because it was “boyish.” Did you ever feel the need to portray stereotypically masculine or feminine traits as a student, lawyer, or a politician?
Well, I think that a lot of when you’re a woman politician in a male-dominated field, it’s important just to be yourself. And it’s important not to constantly have the theme be we need a woman in the office. Because voters are going to tend to make a decision based on if they think you’re going to do a good job for them. And they tend to not always think about gender when they make those decisions. And in some cases being a woman in the past, I think have hurt some really great candidates because the voters get in their head, “Oh, can she really be in charge of something?”
So I’ve tended to, from the beginning of my career in politics to run based on my own record, and I would actually say things like, “I’m not running as a woman, even though I am one. I am running because I’m running based on my experience as a prosecutor. I’m running based on what I want to get done.” And I think if it becomes too dominated, a campaign, by being the first one, sometimes that works like in legislative races and we have a lot of excitement in our state. But for some legislators, [inaudible] council person. And those are different types of races. But when you’re starting to run for the U.S. Senate, I think you have to reach out beyond any identity.
For female politicians, would that be the primary advice you give them? To not run on the basis of identity? Or do you think there’s another piece of advice you’d give to aspiring female politicians?
I think that you certainly make the case to women, because they’ve been a group that has been historically underrepresented, and you talk about all kinds of policies that help women, whether it’s child care, whether it is minimum wage. But you have to not neglect to reach out to a large portion of our population, which is men. And you also have to campaign without geographic boundaries. I think that one of the problems with the last presidential race was that the Democratic Party didn’t put enough emphasis on rural areas. And I personally visit all 87 counties in my state every year and I go to every rural county.
To quote Chris Christie, “I don’t just go where it’s comfortable, I go where it’s uncomfortable.” Including I once visited a small business that was called Killing Bed Bugs with Heat. And it was a series of trucks that [inaudible] going to, and they turned up the heat. And so the point is that you really have to be able to reach not just across the aisle, and not just with messaging, you really have to be willing to go out there and talk to people that have different backgrounds than yourself.
A lot of college students feel the pressure to go to New York or D.C. after they graduate, but you went home. What prompted you to head back home?
Well, my family was home, and that was really important. I really didn’t know that I wanted to run for office, so it wasn’t that reason. In fact, I worked in the private sector for 14 years before I was in political office. I did run campaigns and worked on some stuff during that time. I always liked politics. I wasn’t someone that had not been involved. But that really wasn’t why I went back. I went back because my mom and dad were there, and I really love my state. And I wanted to go back. And so I think for a lot of people, Yale students and others, that you’re going somewhere on the coast. And in the big cities, it’s fun for a while. And I certainly think it’s a great idea. But I think people should be really ready to go back to all parts of our country, including rural areas. That’s one of the reasons I am pushing so hard for Wi-Fi all over the country. We don’t want everyone just living in one town. We want Duluth, Minnesota to be strong. And we want Fargo, North Dakota to be strong. And that actually, there’s some advantages to that economically because the cost of living is so much lower in some of these other places. So in this day where you can do a lot of your work over the internet, it allows you to live in different places. So it’s really important that we make some of these cities—Duluth is a such a great example because it’s a fun, cool place to live and it’s beautiful. And it has this whole music scene. We’ve got to be sure those places are cool, too. That it’s not just big cities.
Do you have any advice for college students at large?
Well, I think a lot of this is to not get too cynical. We have a really difficult time in government right now, a lot of polarization. But that’s not a reason to put your head in the sand. That’s a reason to come and work in government. Or work in non-profits. We need fresh new blood. We need people who are willing to see things differently. And that’s the only way you’re going to have that kind of influence, is if you are involved some way. Even if you go into the private sector to get involved civically, to volunteer on campaigns. Marching is important, but it’s not—you also have to be interested in not just speaking out but also outcomes. And that means getting involved in the actual process of governing and campaigning.
Where do you get your news?
Well I always read several of the Minnesota newspapers every morning on the web and then I read—I tend to look at the The Washington Post and I look at New York Times, Wall Street Journal it just depends on the day, but I usually look at some national newspapers and then, of course, I look at RealClearPolitics sometimes because that’s a conglomeration of different stories on the left and the right. I look at that website and then, of course, I have TV on different stations. I really try hard not to watch the same station all the time.
What made you want to run for office?
I was trying to as I saw firsthand that you can make a difference in government when my daughter was born and she was really sick. And I was not an elected official, and I went to the legislature like a mom in tennis shoes and I advocated for a 48-hour hospital stay for new moms and their babies, and we won and we got that done and it made me really feel like anything is possible. I felt the same way when Walter Mondale picked Geraldine Ferraro to be his running mate. You think, “Well I could do this,” and, “I can get things done,” and that’s how I got started.