Presidential aspirant reaches across aisle, out to rural people

By : 
DAVID PHILLIPS
Reflections from my Notebook

I received a surprise in my email inbox a few weeks ago when our community newspapers were invited to cover the announcement by Sen. Amy Klobuchar that she is running for president. Although a couple other potential candidates from Minnesota — Michele Bachman and Tim Pawlenty — announced their intent in the past decade, our small, rural newspapers have never been asked to be included in documenting the process.

I didn’t act on it at first because the event was in St. Paul and I couldn’t see a direct link to anything local, our primary consideration in devoting news space. However, I thought it might be fun to attend the start of a campaign that, while slim, could lead to the presidency, so I later responded with my information to get credentials.

However, we got hit with a snowstorm that day, so I never made it to St. Paul. Had it been for work, I probably would have trudged through the snow to attend the event. Since it was a personal whim, I didn’t have the urge to travel that far in poor conditions for something that wasn’t going to be an integral component of our newspapers.

Still, it would have been interesting to see in person how her event unfolded. If she ever became president I will regret missing out.

It wasn’t the first time I missed a big-time political event that I contemplated attending. When President Donald Trump visited Rochester, I had thought of going, but it was the same night as a local forum for local candidates, and, as always, local news came first. Besides, I would have had to decide whether to attend as a citizen or a member of the media, which Trump reiterated in a tweet just this past Sunday are the “enemy of the people,” and take the abuse of his fans.

I knew that wouldn’t happen at Klobuchar’s event. She is the daughter of a journalist and has great respect for the media, even newspapers in the hinterland.

In fact, there is a local tie to this story in that her father, Jim Klobuchar, visited our region on one of his bike tours across Minnesota. I met him when he stayed overnight in Spring Valley about 30 years ago during a tour through the area.

The Star Tribune columnist organized annual bicycle tours throughout Minnesota. Klobuchar, now 90, no longer leads the tours, but he reflected on them when interviewed for a Star Tribune story a few years ago.

“The whole idea was a community on wheels,” he told the reporter. “Friendships developed that are still alive. That’s really my biggest satisfaction — bringing people together and sharing the road together. And the joy of seeing Minnesota’s countryside, which can be spectacular.”

Small towns, such as Spring Valley, embraced the community on wheels, offering camping at schools and meals at churches or community centers. Klobuchar said he was impressed by the small town hospitality, which was reimbursed by the group of bicyclists, bolstering the rural economy in return.

The small town hospitality also made a mark on his daughter, who rode with him occasionally.

“One thing you learn on these bike rides is the wonderful folks we live with in this part of the world,” Amy Klobuchar told the Star Tribune in 2015.

Perhaps those experiences are what prompted Sen. Klobuchar to make a point of visiting all 87 counties in Minnesota every year and include rural media in her presidential announcement.

Even more importantly, those experiences may have shaped her worldview. As she stated in her announcement two weeks ago, the United States has become the world’s beacon of democracy, “one in which everyone matters.”

She also explained on that snowy day in St. Paul how people came together to rescue survivors of the I-35 bridge collapse. “That’s community. That’s a shared story. That’s ordinary people doing extraordinary things,” she said.

Her I-35 bridge story didn’t end there, though. She also pointed out that politicians in Washington, D.C., reached across the aisle to get the structure rebuilt quickly.

Reaching across the aisle is standard operating procedure for Klobuchar. Our newspapers always get her releases, which we typically don’t publish since they usually don’t deal with local issues, that show her bipartisan efforts as well as her drive to get bills passed. Just in the last week, we received releases on her and Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) introducing legislation to help prevent carbon monoxide deaths, her and Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) introducing legislation to expand reliable, affordable broadband to rural America and her and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) reintroducing legislation to crack down on fraud targeted at seniors.

Her attention to rural people and willingness to work on bipartisan solutions hasn’t escaped the notice of people in our area. In the 2018 election, she was the only Democrat in a statewide race to win Fillmore County and one of two to win in Houston County with Gov. Tim Walz being the other.

The big question, though, is will those traits play to a national electorate? Her most difficult task will likely be getting the support of Democrats, who haven’t seen rural constituents as important lately and seem to be veering away from centrist views.

She also has other handicaps, which Klobuchar admitted in her announcement. Her campaign is homegrown, relying on local talent, she doesn’t have a political machine like so many other candidates and she doesn’t come from money, which is important in national politics.

“But what I do have is this: I have grit,” she told the audience assembled in a snowstorm in St. Paul two weeks ago.

That’s something Minnesotans can appreciate. And, I think there are a whole lot of other Americans who can appreciate that trait as well, especially when it comes from someone who has demonstrated, not just in words, but in actions, that “everyone matters.”