MyDD Conversation with MN-Sen Candidate Amy Klobuchar
by Jonathan Singer, Thu Feb 23, 2006 at 07:15:08 AM EST
On Wednesday afternoon, I had the chance to speak over the telephone with Hennepin County District Attorny Amy Klobuchar, the presumptive Democratic Senate nominee in the great state of Minnesota.
Klobuchar and I covered a range of interviews during our conversation, including the situation in Iraq, GOP corruption, US port security and the United Arab Emirates, local Minnesota issues, and why the progressive blogosphere should get involved in the campaign. You can listen to the interview here (warning: a 15.1 megabyte mp3) or read the rush transcript below.
Jonathan Singer: I don't know if you saw, but the news out of Iraq today does not inspire much optimism, with the AP raising the specter of an outright civil war in the country. Is there anything America can do to help remedy the situation?
Amy Klobuchar: I opposed this war in the first place. The administration went into this war without a plan and without the help of other countries to the extent that we have seen in other wars. We sort of had a go it alone philosophy. Sadly, it just keeps going on and on and on. You just pray for our troops and that we will see success there.
But the bottom line is, I think we - as the events of today bear out - that we need a significant change of course so that we can send a message to the people of Iraq that we're not going to be staying there indefinitely, that we do bring some of our troops home, and that we transition to them, because, so far, sadly, as much as our troops are doing everything they can and as brave as they can, when we went into this war in false pretences - which I think Colin Powell called a blot on his career - and the administration has been spending so much of their time sort of spinning the war and explaining it and getting involved in legal entanglements. This is not the direction we should be going.
The other thing that bothers me about this is that it took us away from other pressing crises, in terms of Iran, North Korea and some of these other countries and potential high risks, in terms of weapons of mass destruction, where we should have been putting our resources.
We've now spent over $300 billion, over 2,000 Americans have been killed, countless Iraqis. We have to hold the people accountable that brought us to the place that we are.
Singer: Where do you stand on something like the Murtha Amendment, or other similar plans to help extricate itself from Iraq?
Klobuchar: I would like to see a drawdown of the troops this year, a significant drawdown of the troops. I don't believe that at this point we can set a specific date to get each and every troop out of Iraq, as much some people would like to see that. I understand the sentiment, and I don't think we should be attacking people who are at least in good faith trying to come up with good solutions. My hope is that we could bring in peacekeeping forces, whether it is the UN or NATO, and I believe that to make that work would have to be a part of that. You know we went into that country and dismantled their police force, their army, and to just get out overnight would not be responsible. So I would like to see a transition to an international peacekeeping force that I believe we would most likely be a part of.
Singer: To the best of my knowledge, your Republican opponent, Rep. Mark Kennedy, has not been directly implicated in the corruption scandal surrounding Jack Abramoff. Will you still be talking about the GOP corruption in general during the campaign?
Klobuchar: I will.
In my role as a prosecutor, you draw the line every day. We see white collar cases come into our office. It usually starts with someone maybe stealing a little money from the petty cash, and then they end up taking millions of dollars from the workers' 401k accounts. And I believe it's our job to draw the line and say there's a difference between what's right and what's wrong.
Well, in 2006, it's going to be the job of the American people, the voters. Because what's happened here is really the responsibility of everyone in leadership in Washington, DC, because this started with them bringing... I always say, "You dance with the one that brung ya," that that's what's going on out there. They would give tax loopholes to their friends and give companies the ability to send jobs overseas that brought them into office, and then the next thing you know, they're taking PAC contributions and funneling them into other PACs, trying to hide them, and the next thing you know they're lying before a grand jury. That's what this culture of corruption is.
And if you asked how does my opponent, Congressman Kennedy... what does he have to do with it? I'll just look at the prescription drug bill. This was a bill pushed by the Republican leadership. Congressman Kennedy did support this bill. And it basically insulated the prescription drug companies from competition.
A study just came out two weeks ago that showed the Veterans Affairs, that agency - they negotiate prices with the drug companies - their prices are about 50 percent lower than they are for Medicare Part D. 50 percent lower. That's about $90 billion a year. So what's the cost of the culture of corruption? Of people giving breaks to the oil companies and giving giveaways and Christmas presents to the drug companies and the insurance companies? The cost is $90 billion a year. There you go. Quantifiable.
You go down the line, and I believe we need to start putting the people in front of these drug companies and in front of these oil companies and coming up with solutions for people. In my job in local government, you don't have the luxury of just putting your head in the sand, and doing favors for your friends and throwing out partisan bombshells all of the time, you actually got to make decisions and get things done. And that's the spirit that I want to bring to Washington, DC.
Singer: Let's talk about a different billion figure. I don't know it exactly, I think it's something like $6.8 billion is the amount that a government-owned company in the United Arab Emirates bought control over some American ports. There has been some talk among Republicans opposing this - most of the opposition comes from Democrats - but we see leading Republicans like John Warner, who is the Chairman of the Armed Services Committee in the Senate, really coming out in favor of it. Where do you stand? Do you think that we should be handing over essentially control of American ports to the UAE?
Klobuchar: No I don't, and I was quite shocked when I saw this. We are living in a world where we are constantly concerned about terror and homeland security, and here we are going to be turning our ports over - and presumably the security part of our ports - to these foreign countries. I couldn't believe it.
We have ports here in Minnesota. I know not everyone would expect that, but we do in Duluth, Lake Superior, and down the river, and I checked into that today, and our ports are all owned by home-grown companies in the United States and in Minnesota, and that's the way it should be.
Singer: Are there any other specific issues or items of legislation you'll try and bring to Washington, should Minnesotans send you there?
Klobuchar: I come from a place, Minnesota, where we value things like hard work and fair play and responsibility. I learned hard work from my grandpa. He worked 1,500 feet underground in the mines in Ely, Minnesota. He saved money in a coffee can to send my dad to college. I grew up in a middle class neighborhood, knew I'd always have to work hard to get where I wanted to go.
What I see going on in Washington is just a deterioration of that American dream, a middle class crunch, where people in our state - they've got jobs, a lot of them - but they keep saying, "What's going on? It's harder and harder for me to get by, it's harder for me to buy a house, it's harder for me to send my kids to college." Well, the numbers are their. Tuition at the University of Minnesota up 81 percent, healthcare costs up 3 ½ times the average wage. We are basically losing our middle class with these wrongheaded policies where we are having the wrong priorities, we are giving tax cuts to the wealthiest, giving loopholes to the big corporate special interests, and it's becoming harder and harder for people to get by.
So if you asked what I want to work on, I want to work on, one, balancing this budget - they've taken a $300 billion Clinton budget surplus and turned it into a $300 billion Bush budget deficit - by going back to the pay-as-you-go rules that we had during the Clinton administration, looking at cutting down on this discretionary spending so we can put the money where it counts, on our big challenges of healthcare reform and energy independence. I would like to see more money to help kids afford college and change the priorities away from the wealthiest and the healthiest for healthcare. I would like to see true energy independence. We are sitting here in Minnesota on what we consider the Saudi Arabia of energy with the wind sweeping through the prairies. Down in Southwestern Minnesota, we have many, many wind turbines, to the point that they've now set up a bed and breakfast there, so people can go down and spend a weekend touring the wind turbines, so if you're interested in that, you can come down to Minnesota for a weekend.
But we're very excited and optimistic about the energy future here, the good it'll do for the environment, the reduction in dependency on foreign oil. But to get there, it's not just talk - it's actually setting standards. I want to see a 20 percent renewable energy standard for electricity. I want to see higher standards for renewable fuel. I want to see them change the federal fleet of cars, which has just been sitting there without fuel-efficient cars for years and years and years. We need to lead by example.
Singer: You brought up your roots outside of the Twin Cities. I know that you have a strong political base of support within the Democratic-friendly Twin Cities, but how might you extend this to places like the Iron Range and other places that, at least in recent years, have been less friendly to Democrats?
Klobuchar: I represent a quarter of the state of Minnesota right now, and it's an area - Hennepin County - that is two-thirds suburban, and then an urban area. It is one of the areas where you look at where Kerry picked up a number of supporters, people in the suburbs who wanted to see more of a focus on education and transportation. So that's an important piece of this.
But the fact [is] that my roots are on the Iron Range up in Northern Minnesota. I have many friends there, Congressman Oberstar's support. And what I've found is that people there, or down in Southern Minnesota - Mankato, where my husband and his five brothers are from - they're basically saying a lot of the same things. And I think this election, which is so critical on these issues of what's right and what's wrong, unite people across geographic lines.
The issue of CAFTA, the Central America Free Trade Agreement, really hurt 30,000 farmers and their families and workers in the Red River valley in the Northwestern part of our state. So that's something where Congressman Kennedy was the deciding vote for CAFTA, when they could have put in some amendments and changes that would have helped that industry in our state and chose not to do that. Again, a go it alone philosophy. Didn't listen to Congressman Collin Peterson or some of our North Dakota friends, and they just kept it as it is.
Those are issues that people are going to care about in our state, whether they're farmers or workers. So as I look at a state as a whole, I see some unique issues in different parts of it, but I also see that overriding concern that we need change in Washington, we need someone who's going to work on solutions for people for a change, someone who's not going to spend the whole time in a 24 hour TV shout-fest about what's right and what's left and instead talk about what's right and what's wrong, because when you talk to people in Minnesota about what's right and what's wrong, people listen. They know it's right to make Social Security a guarantee and it's wrong to make it a gamble. They know it's right to invest in our kids and education and it's wrong to give oversized tax cuts to the wealthiest among us. They know it's right to invest in our troops and herald our veterans and they know it's wrong to go to war without a plan. And when you talk to them this way, they listen.
They are so fed up with what I call the lies and the legends. I always tell the story of a diner in my neighborhood. It's called Betty's Bikes and Buns. They've got this business card that says, "Betty's Bikes and Buns: Where Lies Become Legends." Well the people in our state are beginning to see the lies beneath the legends of the leadership in Washington, DC. They told us there were weapons of mass destruction; there weren't. They told us they'd leave no child behind; they left behind millions. They told us they'd unite this country, and they've divided us as ever before. They told us that we'd be ready for any national disaster, and you just ask that mom stranded on the roof in New Orleans for three days with her three kids if that was true and she'll tell you the truth.
They've had it with lies and legends, and they want to see some leadership - real leadership - on issues like affordable healthcare and energy independence and tax fairness and economic and international security.
Singer: I just want to ask you one more question. What would you like to say specifically to the members of the liberal blogosphere to get them involved in the campaign? There's no longer a primary. It seems like Minnesota is a "blue" state. Why should they expend time, money and effort to help you win?
Klobuchar: I'm running against one of the most conservative Members of Congress. He has had in for him now Frist, Card, he's had Hastert, he's had Cheney, he's had George W. Bush in for a fundraiser on Air Force One, and now he's actually going out to Washington to have an event with Karl Rove. The only celebrities we've had are the Gear Daddy's Band of Austin, Minnesota who's most famous song is "I Want to Ride the Zamboni."
So we need help from the blogosphere. We need help from progressives across this country to stand up and help me with this race. I've done everything that I can. We've built a huge grassroots network. We're in the process of adding more and more volunteers every day. Jeff Blodgett, who was Paul Wellstone's campaign manager, has been helping me extensively. I've raised money from my kitchen table, from the Internet - I always joke that I've even raised $15,000 from ex-boyfriends, and as my husband notes, that's not an expanding base.
This is going to be a truly grassroots effort. And we're going to need everyone on board across the country. I know it's hard to pronounce my last name - it's Klo [rhymes with glow] - bu [buh] - char [more like shar]. But we need people to get beyond that and help us in Minnesota with spreading the word about what I stand for, which is, in the true Minnesota tradition, this belief that one Senator from Minnesota can make a difference. That we can send someone to Washington who's going to change the culture and who's going to put people in front of the big oil companies and the big drug companies and actually get something done. That's what I've been about in my career. When I took on the big insurance companies when they kicked my out of the hospital when my daughter was born - she was really sick - in 24 hours. And I went to the legislature and got one of the first laws passed in the country for a 48-hour hospital stay for new moms and their babies.
I've taken on these tough fights and I've won them. But I know very well with the people that I'm up against, who are going to fight with every fiber of their being to hang on to their special interest tax breaks and loopholes, that I can't do this alone. I'm going to need people at my side. I'm going to need people with laptops on my side. I'm going to need them watching my back on the blogs, and so that's what I ask you to do for me.
Singer: Well terrific. Good luck and thank you so much for your time.
Klobuchar: OK. It was great being on, Jonathan. I hope we didn't have to cut it too short here. And I was sorry I was a little late.
Singer: No, that's perfect. Thank you again.
[THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.]