BJORK: Midwestern Nice: In Contrast to Rivals, Amy Klobuchar Touts Bipartisanship
Why Consider Amy Klobuchar
With a reputation for bipartisanship and Midwestern humility, Senator Amy Klobuchar ‘82 (D-MN) occupies a different political lane than many of her 2020 competitors. Re-elected to the U.S. Senate by a 60 percent margin in a state that nearly voted for President Donald Trump in 2016, Klobuchar is a reliable Democrat who has sponsored more successful bills than all of her Senate colleagues (as of 2016).
Klobuchar grew up in Plymouth, Minnesota, where her father was a prominent newspaperman and her mother was a school teacher. She has one younger sister, and her parents divorced when she was 15. Her father struggled with alcoholism for much of Klobuchar’s childhood; he was arrested for driving under the influence three times before successfully sobering up. Klobuchar credits his battle with addiction for increasing her controlling tendencies—and later leading her to make drunk driving a felony in Minnesota.
Klobuchar graduated from Yale magna cum laude in 1982, as a member of Jonathan Edwards College and the Yale College Democrats. She then attended law school at the University of Chicago and later worked as a corporate lawyer in Minnesota.
Before launching her career in government, Klobuchar led a successful effort to extend the hospital stay for new mothers and their infants from 24 hours to 48 hours. After Klobuchar had a medically complicated birth, she and her sickly newborn daughter were released from the hospital after just 24 hours. Believing this hospital stay was not long enough even for healthy newborns, Klobuchar obtained an audience with the Minnesota state legislature, and her advocacy led the state to pass a law guaranteeing a 48-hour hospital stay for newborns and their mothers. Although Minnesota was one of the first states to adopt this 48 hour hospital policy, it later became federal law as well.
Klobuchar was elected Hennepin County Attorney in 1998, managing a district attorney’s office that oversees more than a quarter of Minnesota. She won the election by less than one percent, a victory for which she credits a substantial ground game that included 85 pancake breakfasts.
In 2006, Klobuchar won election to the Senate by a margin of 60 percent, raising $17,000 of her campaign funds from ex-boyfriends along the way and becoming the first female senator in Minnesota history. She has a reputation for working hard to advocate for statewide priorities and for passing a lot of legislation, often around less political issues like consumer protection. Klobuchar votes with Trump far more often than many of her more progressive competitors, and she has passed 24 bills since he became president.
Expanding healthcare via a public option:
Klobuchar has not signed onto Senator Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT) Medicare for All legislation, saying instead that while Medicare for All should be considered, she prefers a more “sensible” transition like a public option or lower age criteria. With a public option, individuals could choose to buy a government plan like Medicare, or they could choose to maintain private insurance; in contrast, Sanders has called for an elimination of private insurance. Klobuchar also plans to strengthen the Affordable Care Act by implementing cost sharing measures and delivery reform.
Klobuchar has referred to infrastructure as her top budget priority, proposing a one trillion dollar infrastructure plan in the early days of her campaign. With this money, she would prioritize repairs to roads, highways, and bridges. Additionally, she would strengthen protections against flooding by modernizing ports and waterways. Improving public transportation, internet connectivity, and the quality of school buildings also fall within the scope of her infrastructure ideas.
Addiction and mental health:
Influenced by her father’s struggles with alcoholism, Klobuchar has prioritized mental health treatment in her platform on health care. She has also sponsored legislation to combat the opioid crisis by taxing prescription opioids at a rate of one cent per milligram and has worked extensively to bring down the cost of other prescription drugs.
Klobuchar has called climate change “an urgent priority” and has signed onto the Green New Deal. She has signed a pledge stating she will not take money from oil and gas companies and prioritizes clean energy and re-entry into the Paris Agreement. She has also promised to reinstitute Obama-era standards for clean fuel and higher gas mileage. Back in 2007, just months into her tenure in the Senate, Klobuchar introduced a carbon tracking program that was meant to be a step toward a carbon cap and trade policy.
Since she has announced her candidacy for president, numerous news stories have surfaced about how Klobuchar can be a difficult boss who has been known to mistreat her staff. Klobuchar has the highest staff turnover rate among any senator who has served between 2001 and 2016. Two other 2020 candidates, senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Michael Bennet (D-CO), are also featured on the list of senators with the highest staff turnover, but both see just over half of the turnover Klobuchar experiences. According to the Huffington Post, at least three potential campaign managers turned Klobuchar down because of her reputation for demeaning criticism and public humiliation. Other staffers have countered that these criticisms are sexist and unfair, saying that Klobuchar simply has high expectations and great attention to detail. In an interview with Elle, Klobuchar acknowledged that she has high expectations and sometimes pushes people hard. She also contended that the other women who are running for president have faced similar negative press.
An Emblematic Anecdote
Klobuchar had a memorably misadventurous first day in the Senate. When she dropped her daughter, Abigail, off at school before coming to work, Abigail tripped while getting out of the car, spilling her books in front of a crowd of kids. Later in the day, Klobuchar walked into the men’s restroom by mistake—and discovered it was twice as large as the women’s. Later in the day, Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) teased Klobuchar for putting so much dressing on her salad that it looked like she was drinking a bowl of Thousand Island.
“That’s what we do in Minnesota!” Klobuchar told her colleague. She tells this anecdote to establish herself as a working mother, advocate for women, and, of course, a proud Midwesterner.
For her focus on bipartisanship and appeal in the Midwest, Klobuchar appears to be competing with former Vice President Joe Biden and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg for more moderate Democratic voters. While she lacks the polling strength of these competitors, Klobuchar is unique as the only moderate female senator in the race.
State of the Race
In general, Klobuchar has been polling around one or two percent—which puts her in the top ten, but just barely. Recently, Klobuchar has been explicitly highlighting her electability, arguing that her electoral successes in Minnesota would make her a competitive candidate in the general election. She is polling sixth in Iowa but told Minnesota Public Radio that she is confident she will qualify for the September debates, when the field is likely to narrow considerably due to the Democratic National Committee’s requirement that candidates earn at least two percent in four different polls leading up to the debate. Klobuchar has reached this threshold in three polls and has already collected donations from 100,000 individual donors (of the 130,000 needed to qualify for the September debate).
After her first year at Yale, Klobuchar worked on a construction crew over the summer, quizzing her coworkers on the new vocabulary she was teaching herself in order to keep up with her classmates. Klobuchar loves to talk about her husband, John Bessler, one of the few men who participates actively in the Senate spouses’ circle. While leaving the Capitol with former Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Klobuchar spied her husband crossing the lawn with a pink box, on his way to a senator’s wife’s baby shower.