Daily Reformer: Klobuchar’s trouble on the home front

January 17, 2020 3:45 pm

Good afternoon! 

Happy early voting day! 

Read Aaron Booth’s Minnesota presidential primary primer, filled with recent polling and data-rich maps. It should give you a decent idea of the state’s current political profile, especially on the DFL side, which is where all the primary action is. 

A side note: Aaron is a sharp but entirely self-taught elections analyst whose work I noticed on Twitter at my last job, and I decided I wanted him to write for us in my new one. And I’m glad for it. He’s an actor when he’s not being an elections data nerd (that word is a compliment). As someone with a relatively unconventional journalism background, I find it rewarding to give other people an opportunity, and I again renew my call for new writers: [email protected]

Personally, I don’t have a very clear sense of the field here yet, and Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s status in the race adds to the complexity.

Unless Klobuchar is the presidential or vice presidential nominee, she has work to do at home.

When I arrived here in 2014, I was a touch surprised that the senior senator from a state that hasn’t gone Republican for the White House since 1972 seemed to spend an awful lot of time working on issues like the dangers of certain children’s furniture and bipartisan bills to help the craft beer industry. (That’s a mild exaggeration and I have nothing against either issue, mind you.) 

The weird thing is, people agreed that she was risk averse, but they didn’t want to talk about it, at least on the record. 

But with a presidential race and her attacks on Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, and the scrutiny of the national press, Minnesota Klobuchar critics aren’t hard to find on social media anymore. 

I have an unhealthy rage that Klobuchar is still running. Her careerist, middling, aw-shucks campaign makes me feel like I am stuck in a crippling snowstorm with the most passive-aggressive step mom ever.  

Or, DFL — now living in Texas, so just Democratic — operative Ashley Fairbanks: How can we even be considering making this our candidate? It’s a moral failure.

In that tweet Fairbanks is referring to treatment of staff, which Minnesotans have learned a lot about since Klobuchar decided to run for president. (This was another thing that people talked about but would never say on the record for fear of the impact on their careers, so I could never report it.) 

Her opacity on issues — I recall overhearing colleagues’ maddening conversations with her staff about whether she was for or against something — has also come into play. Remember this great MinnPost story from Walker Orenstein and Gabe Schneider that delved into her position on copper-nickel mining: 

After 15 years of public scrutiny, people for and against mining seem pretty sure Klobuchar supports PolyMet, a $1 billion copper-nickel mine planned near Hoyt Lakes. Yet they are far less sure of Klobuchar’s stance on Twin Metals, a large and controversial operation that Chilean mining giant Antofagasta hopes to build just miles from the Boundary Waters Canoe Area …. John Rebrovich, co-chairman of the Iron Ore Alliance, a partnership between U.S. Steel and the United Steelworkers union, had a similar response: “I don’t know exactly what her stance is.”

Is the lack of clarity a feature or a bug? 

Then there was Buzzfeed’s piece on Klobuchar’s role on the gay marrage ban, which was middling at best, according to their reporting. Here’s the summer of 2011: 

Klobuchar’s office reached out to some of Michael’s coworkers to ask if they would march in the parade alongside her, he said. When one asked about Klobuchar’s stance on the marriage amendment, they got a surprising response: Klobuchar wouldn’t be taking a position, her office said, because she only dealt with issues “on a federal level.”

She came out for marriage equality after President Barack Obama in 2012, and her campaign told Buzzfeed that she made her opposition clear at a gala for the Human Rights Campaign in September 2011. 

There seems to be a generational thing, where younger DFL politicos are less afraid to say what they think. One younger operative told me Klobuchar could face a DFL primary challenger in 2024. (But won’t that be her presidential reelection!?)

She’s a skilled politician, and no one will outwork her (or her staff, but that’s a whole nuther story, isn’t it?) 

She has an impressive list of local endorsements in Iowa, and she’s already been to all 99 counties, so I wouldn’t be surprised if she beat expectations there. 

But even if she does better than expected in Iowa and New Hampshire, she’ll have to consider whether she wants to lose her home state. Because that’s a serious possibility. 

OK, moving on: Please join me in welcoming Javier Morillo, the brilliant former president of SEIU Local 26, as a guest opinion writer. He makes the argument to the DFL that racial politics are here and will continue to be, as evidenced by the Beltrami “no refugees” vote. But progressives need to make welcoming people in need and working together to solve problems a core feature of “Minnesotanness,” Javier argues. Must read. The man is a big deal and we thank him for showing confidence in our little outlet! 

And, Rilyn Eischens has a nice find — nearly half of 12th graders at most Minnesota high schools didn’t submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid last year, she reports. She has a map with the data, too! As Rilyn notes, it’s a critical step toward getting to college, and low income and first generation in their family to attend college kids are most often the ones not completing it. 

Your daily “These Truths” from Jill Lepore: 

An amusing if disheartening exchange between Abigail and John Adams in 1776, when she warns him in a letter, “Do not put such unlimited powers into the hands of the Husbands….Remember all Men would be tyrants if they could.” He dismissed her, “I cannot but laugh….We know better than to repeal our Masculine systems.” 

Who is watching “The Mind of Aaron Hernandez”? Riveting television that serves as an indictment of the NFL, big time college football, the college town police who cover for athletes, homophobia etc. 

Finally, a note of thanks to you for your support of Minnesota Reformer at the end of our first week. It’s been incredible and you have been amazingly supportive. We thank you and want you to know we consider you all Team Reformer. Please continue to read, share, attack, etc. In the future we’ll talk more about how you can play an even bigger role in the Reformer community. 

Have a great weekend all! I need a nap. 

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J. Patrick Coolican
J. Patrick Coolican

J. Patrick Coolican is Editor-in-Chief of Minnesota Reformer. Previously, he was a Capitol reporter for the Minneapolis Star Tribune for five years, after a Knight-Wallace Fellowship at the University of Michigan and time at the Las Vegas Sun, Seattle Times and a few other stops along the way. He lives in St. Paul with his wife and two young children