Klobuchar: Minnesota Needs A Second Senator

06/20/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Sam Stein Senior Politics Editor, The Huffington Post

For the past five months, Senator Amy Klobuchar has been operating alone, without a second senator from her home state to help handle the responsibilities that come with the office.

The grind, she admits, has had its affect. As Al Franken and Norm Coleman enter the next stage of an already drawn out recount process, Klobuchar has watched as the work has piled up. She has inherited 400 constituent cases from Coleman, witnessed a 30 percent increase in the number of meetings her office has hosted, as well as a five percent increase in the number of phone calls received. She has also been forced to handle a whole slew of weighty political responsibilities: from an additional committee assignment to waves of constituent requests: from passport problems to veteran benefits.

"This is unique," said the Minnesota Democrat of her going-solo predicament in an interview in the Huffington Post. "I had the Senate historian look into it. And it turns out this happened back to the 1970s in New Hampshire... But it has never happened in the modern day of email and computers."

As Coleman drags out his appeal of the 2008 senate race, the weight on Klobuchar's shoulders, and the possibility of Minnesota suffering legislatively, grow greater. Observers inside the state -- known for its even political temperament -- say that Minnesota's current and lone senator has done yeoman-like work handling the situation. They also applaud the job done by Minnesota members of the House, who have worked to ensure that the state has its voice in all major legislative decisions -- specifically appropriations.

But with each passing day, the possibility of losing out on some political benefit weighs on their minds as well as on members of the Democratic party as a whole.

"We have not seen a tangible effect yet," said former vice president and Minnesota Democrat Walter Mondale. "But that's because we are in the early days of the new Congress. As we go along and these issues come up where there are only one or two votes dividing Democrats from being filibustered, the difference of one senator is massive. If we get both senators, and I'm assuming it is going to be Franken, I think you will find the Senate will loosen up and start acting and compromising on measures. I'm an old senator and I know when you get close to cloture the attitude changes. When you think you can filibuster there is utter rigidity. When it looks close to passage there is more willingness to compromise."

The effects felt from the absence of a second senator from Minnesota are, as Mondale notes, both broad and localized. During the stimulus debate, for instance, the state was able to secure approximately $2.02 billion in federal dollars, more than all but 19 others. And yet, the process would have been dramatically different had Franken or, for that matter, Coleman, been in office. "You had Susan Collins, Olympia Snowe and Arlen Specter," as the key votes, said John Shockley, a political science professor at Augsburg College. "If Franken had been there on January 3, imagine how different that would have been. We will never know."

The state has benefited from the high-ranking roles played by members of its delegation in the House of Representatives. Rep. Colin Peterson chairs the agriculture committee while Rep. Jim Oberstar runs transportation. But when political issues being considered don't fall in those domains, the state runs the risk of being fleeced in the final outcome.

"Obviously we are a man down," said Lawrence Jacobs, a professor at the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute for Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota. "And when it comes time to negotiating health care reform -- where Minnesota has always been a big player -- we just don't have the same presence. It is not just theoretical. It is a real issue."

As Klobuchar notes, the closest Minnesota came to such a scenario was during a debate on Medicaid funding earlier this Congress. "[Sen. Chuck] Grassley had a proposal that would have cost our state $200 million," she recalled. "I led the fight to make sure we defeated the amendment and we won by only two votes... At some point there is going to be a vote where one vote makes a difference."

Indeed, down the road, the absence of a second senator from Minnesota looms large. Klobuchar took on an assignment on the Judiciary Committee when it became clear that she would be operating solo. But having a second senator from the state could be critical when it comes time for Obama to make additional judicial appointments.

And while the most noteworthy work from Congress has been on the president's agenda, in the non-flashy committee hearings where bills are marked-up, not having a second Minnesotan has likely already had a large impact.

"What gets less attention is that Minnesota has had only one senator serving on committees, which are making a lot of decisions behind the scenes, and every other state has two senators looking out for the particular interest of their state during the legislative process," said Kathryn Pearson, a political science professor at the University of Minnesota.

Finally, if Franken were to end up in the seat, he will now be entering a legislative landscape buzzing with activity. The time to get up to speed, staffed, and fluent in the political process will be drastically different than had he been declared the winner on November 5. That said, Klobuchar is not soliciting pity. Her profile has been elevated, as have her approval ratings, for the work she has done in the absence of a Senate colleague. And while she certainly pines for Franken to help her carry the weight, at this juncture she says she remains up for the task.

"Some days [the work load gets to be overwhelming]," said the senator. "But today I'm in an upbeat mood... I'm a mom with a 13-year-old and I have always been able to juggle a lot of things. Maybe I have been preparing for this."

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