One of the U.S. Senate's most candid--and funniest--women tells the story of her life and her unshakeable faith in our democracy
Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar has tackled every obstacle she's encountered--her parents' divorce, her father's alcoholism and recovery, her political campaigns and Washington's gridlock--with honesty, humor and pluck. Now, in The Senator Next Door, she chronicles her remarkable heartland journey, from her immigrant grandparents to her middle-class suburban upbringing to her rise in American politics.
After being kicked out of the hospital while her infant daughter was still in intensive care, Klobuchar became the lead advocate for one of the first laws in the country guaranteeing new moms and their babies a 48-hour hospital stay. Later she ran Minnesota's biggest prosecutor's office and in 2006 was the first woman elected to the U.S. Senate from her state. Along the way she fashioned her own political philosophy grounded in her belief that partisan flame-throwing takes no courage at all; what really matters is forging alliances with unlikely partners to solve the nation's problems.
Optimistic, plainspoken and often very funny, The Senator Next Door is a story about how the girl next door decided to enter the fray and make a difference. At a moment when America's government often seems incapable of getting anything done, Amy Klobuchar proves that politics is still the art of the possible.
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About the Author
AMY KLOBUCHAR, the daughter of a newspaperman and a schoolteacher, is the senior senator from Minnesota, the first woman from that state to be elected to the U.S. Senate. A national leader in the Democratic party, she ran for president in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary and has a well-earned reputation for working across the aisle to pass legislation that supports families, workers and small businesses. She and her husband, John, are proud parents of their daughter, Abigail, now in law school.
Read an Excerpt
The Senator Next Door
A Memoir from the Heartland
By Amy Klobuchar
Henry Holt and CompanyCopyright © 2015 Amy Klobuchar
All rights reserved.
When Everything Was New
My parents wallpapered the last room in their house on 1315 Oakview Lane in 1960 when everything was new. The house was new, Oakview Lane was new, and even the frontier-town-turned-Minneapolis-suburb of Plymouth, Minnesota, was looking new. Barns and silos were giving way to tracts of attached-garage houses, and what were once cow paths had become streets with names like Kirkwood and Evergreen and Jonquil. With its exposed wood ceiling, my parents' three-bedroom, one-bathroom house was so 1960s modern that one visitor — my grandma — would always ask my dad, "Jim, when are you going to finish that ceiling?" Every single appliance in the house — from the butter yellow–colored oven to the aqua countertop stove to the side-by-side washer and dryer — was new, fully paid for by my dad's GI loan.
And yes, I was new, having come into the world on May 25, 1960. That last room they wallpapered? It was for me.
The scrapbook my mom religiously kept for years features all kinds of data about my early months. The birth certificate from suburban Methodist Hospital is pinned down securely with pink paper picture corners. (Thanks, Mom! I'll never have to contest that in an election!) The Western Union telegram of congratulations from my grandparents in Milwaukee is preserved, envelope and all. I smiled at three and a half weeks, blew bubbles at thirteen weeks, and didn't walk until I was fourteen months old (my mom always told the neighbors that crawling for a long time made a child a better reader). All polio and smallpox vaccines are recorded by month; of key interest, I ate an egg yolk when I was four months old.
As idyllic as that all sounds, in truth I cried a lot, and for months I hardly ever slept. My mom would look longingly across the street to Dan and Ila Ronning's perfectly kept home, where their infant son Bryan's shades would go down like clockwork every afternoon at 2:00 p.m. That wasn't happening at 1315 Oakview Lane. I slept so little as a baby that one hot summer Saturday afternoon, when our neighbor Mr. O'Fallon started mowing his lawn just after my mom had finally managed to get me down for a nap, my dad ran outside to rebuke him for the noise.
"Who mows their lawn on Saturday afternoon?" my dad yelled over the roar of the mower.
Mr. O'Fallon responded with the obvious answer: "Everyone, Jim, everyone."
My parents, Rose Heuberger and Jim Klobuchar, had met through friends in the Minneapolis Hiking Club. She was a kindergarten teacher from Wisconsin who had moved to Minnesota to teach at an elementary school in Minneapolis. He was a newspaperman with the Associated Press who had gotten his start at the Bismarck Daily Tribune in North Dakota and served in Germany during the Korean War.
On my parents' first date, they went to a minor-league Minneapolis Millers baseball game. After that blind date, they courted for a while until my dad spontaneously proposed one rainy night after yet another sporting event — this time, an NFL exhibition game at Parade Stadium in Minneapolis. Both in their late twenties, they got married in 1954 — the year that Elvis Presley recorded his first songs, CBS News broadcaster Edward R. Murrow took on Joe McCarthy, and Willie Mays made his famous over-the-shoulder catch in the first game of the World Series.
For the six years before I was born, my dad established himself with the AP and my mom cooked and cleaned and taught school. My mother was a great teacher, and the only reason she stopped teaching in early 1960 was that in those days the Minneapolis school district, like practically every district in the country, had a rule that you could only teach until you were five months pregnant. Of course the teachers who got pregnant back then — according to my mom's longtime friend and fellow teacher Gwen Mosberg — would always stretch the alleged due date so school officials would allow them to work weeks, sometimes months, past the five-month limit.
For the next fifteen years, my mom stayed home. My sister Beth was born in 1963. She was a spunky, cherub-cheeked baby with curly, dark hair. For the most part my mom was happy raising her two girls and hanging out with the neighbors. But sometimes it got frustrating, especially since we only had one car and my dad was gone a lot. My mom didn't really push the car issue, though, because she didn't like to drive anyway and was never very good at it. She depended on her husband and her neighbors and her friends for transport.
Since there was no bus service on our dirt road, my mom walked everywhere. The nearest grocery and hardware store was a mile away, and when we couldn't get a ride, we would walk or take a cab. I was the only kid in my suburban elementary school, in fact, who went to piano lessons in a cab. On Sundays, my mom, my sister, and I would also take a taxi to go to church.
"It's cheaper than buying another car," my mom would tell people, rarely mentioning that she didn't have a driver's license.
My job on those trips was to make sure the cabdriver always got a tip by saying, "Add fifty cents, please." My mom had always told me to say that, and to this day I associate going to church and piano lessons with those words and the dread that I would miss the moment and forget to add the tip, thus depriving the driver of his well-earned money. Only years later did I learn that my mother actually prepaid for the rides, including the gratuity. She wanted to be sure I never forgot the importance to workers of adding a tip.
Although they didn't have two cars, my parents got plenty of use out of the one they had. And just as America was ready to take on the world, so were Jim and Rose Klobuchar. President Eisenhower had paved the country with the interstate highway system, and those roads allowed my parents to drive their brand-new Plymouth west for their honeymoon to the Black Hills of South Dakota and Wyoming's Teton National Park. Their car also made it possible for them to build their house in the suburbs as part of the massive wave of suburban 1950s and '60s migration that followed Eisenhower's highways.
Both my mom and dad came from families that struggled during the Depression. My mom's immigrant parents converted recycled pie syrup into homemade jelly and sold the jars of jelly to help feed the family. My dad's dad worked day after day fifteen hundred feet underground in the iron ore mines in northeastern Minnesota. That's why, for my parents, the memories of difficult times were never far behind. From the Depression and World War II to the Korean War and the Cold War, the economic and security fears still haunted them. The possibility of another Depression and the ever-present fear of a run on the banks? More than enough reason for my dad to stash a wad of cash in the woodpile in the garage well into the next century. And his mom and dad? They kept a good part of their life savings in coffee cans in their basement in Ely, Minnesota.
For my parents' generation, another disaster was always looming right around the corner: the banks could fail; an atomic bomb could land in St. Paul; and the hazards from the past were as close to my mom and dad's present as the cars stretching behind them in the glistening rearview mirror of my dad's beige four-door. But the sheer joy of even having that rearview mirror — of being able to afford that car — was reason enough to leave the past behind. In a country filled with the exuberance of a new decade and the promise of upward paths for all, my parents counted their blessings.
Nothing embodied that youthful exuberance in the year I was born more than the man who would win the election for president, John F. Kennedy. Early on, this wasn't a great Minnesota story: Senator Kennedy outran and outmaneuvered our own beloved Senator Hubert Humphrey, culminating in a humiliating defeat in the 1959 West Virginia primary. Humphrey once lamented during the course of the primaries that with Kennedy's well-organized team and the entire Kennedy family canvassing the country, the election made him feel like "an independent merchant running against a chain store."
But once the primaries were over, it was Kennedy vs. Nixon. And for my mom, who'd moved to Minnesota from Wisconsin because of the stronger teachers' union and better pay, and for my dad, who'd been raised Catholic in an iron ore mining town, the 1960 election was truly about the future — their future.
When America woke up and went to vote on November 8, 1960, no one knew what the outcome would be — this wasn't the age of instant data crunching or computer election modeling and exit polling. As Election Day turned into election night, and November 8th became November 9th, it became clear that this would be the closest presidential election since 1916. The country held its breath. Results came in slowly. And somehow, in that year when everything and anything was possible, it all ended up on my dad's desk, in the hands of young Jimmy Klobuchar, graduate of Ely Junior College and the University of Minnesota journalism school.
On Election Day morning my dad had gone climbing with a friend on the rocks above the St. Croix River, the scenic waterway dividing Minnesota from Wisconsin. When he showed up at work later that day, his assignment was not the typical sports, crime, or public interest story he normally covered. Instead, his task was to work with his boss and bureau chief, George Moses, along with Adolph Johnson, the AP's state capitol reporter and resident expert on Minnesota politics, to write stories on the election returns for Minnesota and North and South Dakota.
By the morning after the election, Kennedy was still five electoral votes shy of victory, and three states — Minnesota, Illinois, and California — were too close to call. The three sleep-deprived Minneapolis reporters confronted this reality: Nixon and Kennedy were running dead even in the state, but tens of thousands of votes were still unreported in Duluth and on northern Minnesota's Mesabi Iron Range, my dad's home turf.
My dad told George Moses that he had little doubt the region would go for Kennedy. "If you grew up on Minnesota's Iron Range in the middle of the twentieth century," he later said, you knew, first, that the area had "as many bars as churches," and second, that "Dick Nixon's prospects in northeastern Minnesota in 1960 were as bright as the temperance movement's chances in West Duluth." Both he and Adolph Johnson emphatically told Moses that in northeastern Minnesota, a working-class Catholic stronghold, Kennedy would most likely pick up more than two-thirds of the vote and thus win the state. And if Kennedy won Minnesota's eleven electoral votes, that would put him over the top.
After hearing his two reporters out, Moses placed a call to the AP's general desk chief in New York, Sam Blackman.
"We're going to elect Kennedy," he told Blackman.
Silence followed. "I've got two words for you guys in Minneapolis," Blackman finally said, pausing before adding with great emphasis: "Be right."
So it was that my dad, the go-to wordsmith of the hour, then in his early thirties, got the chance to write the national story that declared John F. Kennedy the victor in Minnesota, and thus the next president. His sweaty fingers flew across his old Underwood typewriter, hammering the keys furiously with no time to follow the usual protocol of three carbon copies underneath. To beat the AP's chief competitor, United Press International, to the punch, my dad would hand a page to Moses containing only a single paragraph at a time. Moses would check the copy for typos and then run it over to the teletype operator paragraph by paragraph.
Without a carbon to review, and with each page including only a small piece of the story, my dad kept yelling to Bob Mexner, the teletype operator, "Bob, how did that last paragraph end?"
Through dazed eyes after a night of little sleep, Bob would yell back, "With a period, Jim, with a period."
My dad's story calling the election for Kennedy — sent out across the wires at 12:33 p.m., Eastern time — appeared in newspapers across the country. As James Reston of the New York Times explained the next day, the calling of the race in Minnesota was monumental. "At 12:33 o'clock," Reston wrote, "Senator Kennedy clinched Minnesota and the election. Thirteen minutes later, Mr. Nixon made his formal concession."
After Nixon conceded, my dad celebrated his groundbreaking story with Moses and Johnson. "Nice work doing the story," Moses told him. "I almost died twice and barely missed a hernia."
But the party was brief. My dad went to lunch at a nearby Swedish cafe and then returned to the office. There he was given his next assignment: three pigs were stuck in a mud pit near Faribault, Minnesota. He dug in and wrote his story.
So that was the year I was born — a year of endless possibilities. A year of new houses and new cars and new refrigerators. A year when a kid from the Iron Range of Minnesota could write a story calling the presidential election. A year when the country took a risk and elected a youthful and vigorous leader — and a Catholic at that. It was a good year to be born in.
My earliest memory in life is of my mom the day President Kennedy was killed. People a little older than me remember seeing the coverage of the assassination and the funeral procession on TV — the horse-drawn caisson with the casket, little John-John's salute, the black veil — but I don't recall any of that. I only remember my mother on the floor of our basement laundry room, crying over her pile of Life magazines, clutching a cover showing Jackie Kennedy in a nice suit and pearls with the president in the background. I was three years old, and I remember it because I was upstairs calling for my mom and she didn't answer (a rarity). So I climbed down the stairs to the basement by myself (also a rarity) and found her in the laundry room. Crumpled on the cement floor, sobbing between her magazines and her laundry, my mom couldn't have been further removed from the glamorous lifestyle of the Kennedys. But this was her president.
Whenever I think of that day, I recall an old story that Eleanor Roosevelt used to tell about President Roosevelt's funeral in 1945, when a man fell to the ground in grief as the funeral procession proceeded down Constitution Avenue. The stranger standing next to the man asked him simply, "Did you know the President?"
"No," the grieving man answered, "I didn't know the President, but he knew me. He knew me."
My mom, a teacher and a union member and the daughter of immigrant parents, was a loyal Roosevelt and Kennedy Democrat. And even though she had never met these presidents, she knew that they were looking out for her. My mom also saw the Kennedys — with their youth and excitement and love of music and art — as icons, as extraordinary, as uniquely American. Perhaps Mrs. Kennedy summed it up best for my mom immediately after the president's death. "There'll be great Presidents again," she told journalist Theodore White, "but there'll never be another Camelot."
That quote appeared in the December 6, 1963, issue of Life magazine. Almost fifty years later, while we were cleaning out my mother's house after she died, my husband and I found a copy of that issue on a shelf in my mom's basement laundry room. The only other magazine she had saved was the August 13, 1973, edition of TIME. Its cover story featured Minnesota's beaming Governor Wendell Anderson holding up a northern pike with the bold title "The Good Life in Minnesota."
My mother was born in Milwaukee on St. Patrick's Day, 1926, the daughter of Margaret and Martin Heuberger, both Swiss immigrants. My mom's parents had met in Monroe, Wisconsin — "the Swiss Cheese Capital of the U.S." — and were married in Milwaukee less than five weeks before my mom was born. (I figured this out in 1992 while sitting in the pew of the church at my grandmother's funeral. Thanks for the heads-up, Mom!)
Three years after my grandparents were married, the stock market crashed and the country fell into the Depression. My mom and her younger brother, Dick, grew up in hard times. The family moved from one rented place to another, but through it all my grandpa kept his job at Milwaukee's Porth Pie Company. At some point, he convinced his boss to let him take home the syrup left over from the pie production. It was that syrup that my grandpa and grandma, frugal Swiss that they were, would convert into jelly. They'd sell the jars out of a little wagon they pulled up and down the street.
Excerpted from The Senator Next Door by Amy Klobuchar. Copyright © 2015 Amy Klobuchar. Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company.
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Table of Contents
1. Beginnings 5
2. Growing Up 29
3. From New Haven to Hyde Park 55
4. The Real World 77
5. A Mom and a Candidate 106
6. The Chief Prosecutor 136
7. Without Fear or Favor 157
8. Running for the Senate 182
9. Under the Capitol Dome 219
10. Governing 249