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Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group
The Senator Next Door

The Senator Next Door

A Memoir from the Heartland

Amy Klobuchar

Henry Holt and Co.

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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.

Prologue

In my early campaigns people would sometimes come up to me at a grocery store or at a shopping mall and say, “I know you from somewhere.” They would look at me intently and ask, “Is it the PTA? Do you live in my neighborhood?”

Always trying to be respectful, I would say things like, “I don’t think so, but maybe you saw me on TV. I’m your county attorney.” Or, “Actually, I’m running for the United States Senate.”

“No,” they’d respond, “that’s not it. Are you sure you don’t live down the street?”

As the years went on I figured out it was much easier if I just answered, “I don’t exactly live on your block, but you can always think of me as the senator next door.”

I got the idea for the title of this book from my husband, who has heard me talk to many constituents over the years and shares my view that politics is at its best when you listen and learn from the people you represent. To me a public servant should have both the grounding and the compassion to carry the common sense and good will of his or her neighbors into the political arena. And when in that arena, whether it be a city hall or the U.S. Senate, that public servant should be expected to work honestly and collaboratively with others who were presumably elected to do the same thing.

I know this description of American government might seem better suited to a high school textbook than a contemporary political memoir. And I am well aware that our polarized politics&mdashegged on by supersized outside spending by interest groups on the left and the right&mdashhas taken us further and further away from the ideal of value-based and, for that matter, neighbor-based governing. But that is the very reason I wrote this book. At a time when our politics has become increasingly pungent, and politicians are more often lampooned as cartoon caricatures than portrayed as public servants, it is worth remembering why we have this representative democracy in the first place. As elected officials, we were sent to the halls of government by our neighbors to do their work&mdashand much work needs to be done. Remembering our shared experiences with the people we represent makes us better and more accountable civil servants.

So this is my story about how I went from leading my suburban high school’s prom fundraiser, a Lifesaver lollipop drive, to winning a seat in the United States Senate. It’s about tackling all the obstacles I encountered along the way&mdashmy parents’ divorce, my father’s alcoholism and recovery, tough decisions as a prosecutor, my political campaigns, and Washington’s gridlock&mdashwith good intentions and, whenever I could, some good humor.

It’s about my immigrant grandparents who settled in Milwaukee, and my Slovenian-American grandpa who spent his life working fifteen hundred feet underground in the mines in Ely, Minnesota. He never graduated from high school, but he saved money in a coffee can so he could send my dad to college. Both my mom’s and my dad’s parents devoted their lives to making sure their children had a better future. My mom and dad carried on from there, both serving the public&mdashshe as a teacher, he as a newspaperman. They taught me not only to approach my work with a public purpose, but also to set expectations high for myself, my family, and for everyone I work with.

When our daughter, Abigail, was four years old, she had a neighbor girl over and they were playing with dolls. The other girl was a little older than Abigail and as I walked by my daughter’s room, I heard the older girl say to her: “One day soon I’m going to have a baby, just like this doll.”

I stopped in my tracks, stacked towels in hand, and thought, this is it, this is the moment . . . maybe not “the” moment, given that she was only four, but certainly “a” moment. What is she going to say?

Brushing her doll’s hair with much calm, my daughter looked up at that girl with a sweet little smile and said: “Well, I’m going to have a baby, too, but not for a long, long time. Because you can’t have a baby until you run for office and win an election.”

Okay, that was a minor mom victory. Standing outside my daughter’s bedroom door that day, I knew we’d set expectations high enough in our household.

And I knew something else. “You can’t have a baby until you run for office and win an election” was not the answer I would have given growing up in Plymouth, Minnesota, in the 1960s and ’70s. Back when I was in fourth grade I was actually kicked out of my cherished suburban public school&mdashBeacon Heights Elementary&mdashfor having the audacity to be the first girl to wear pants. This was&mdashmind you&mdashin Minnesota, where I walked to school up the Bezenars’ hill and through the woods, rain or shine, 10 below or worse.

That bold pants-wearing move landed me in the principal’s office, where I was called in for my bell-bottomed reckoning by Mrs. Quady, our beehived principal. Peering down above her cat-eyed black glasses, in what to me at that moment looked larger than a beehive (picture a wig the size of a construction cone), she called me out with so much scorn that I could feel it bouncing off my mod, multicolored flowered pants: “Amy Klobuchar, you can wear your culottes and your knickers and your trousers at home, but at Beacon Heights School you wear dresses.”

I wish I could say that I talked back or started a girls-can-wear-pants petition drive, or even more dramatically, a lawsuit. But since I was the good girl who had never been called into the principal’s office before, who didn’t really know how to take on the likes of Mrs. Quady and talk back, I simply cried. I got a permission slip, walked home, put on a skirt, and returned to school.

Now, all these years later, I get to tell my story of how I learned to talk back, stand my ground, and start that petition drive. It’s a story about beating the expectations of our culture and our times, trying my best to stay grounded in the values I learned growing up, and actually getting some things done along the way.

The hardest chapters to write were the two about my time in the U.S. Senate, partly because there’s so much to tell, partly because it’s an unfinished chapter of my life, and mainly because I have a lot of mixed emotions about what’s happening in American politics right now. As a U.S. Senator, I’ve tried my best to practice politics the way I think it’s supposed to be practiced&mdashalways looking for common ground, and truly enjoying the people I meet along the way. I believe in my heart that courage in our nation’s capital is not about standing by yourself giving a speech to an empty chamber. Courage is about whether or not you’re willing to stand next to someone you don’t always agree with for the betterment of this country.

That’s why the first thing you see when you visit my office in the Senate is a smiling photograph of former Minnesota Senator and Vice President Hubert Humphrey in front of his campaign plane emblazoned with his famous nickname, “The Happy Warrior.” I hung it there for a reason. I am convinced that now, more than ever, our nation needs a good dose of the courage and optimism and moral purpose that defined Hubert Humphrey’s life.

Humphrey’s own words are etched on his grave in Minneapolis: “I have enjoyed my life, its disappointments outweighed by its pleasures. I have loved my country in a way that some people consider sentimental and out of style. I still do. And I remain an optimist with joy, without apology, about this country and about the American experiment in democracy.”

When you read my story I have one hope: that you will come away from it with some of that Humphrey joy and, despite our turbulent times, a renewed respect and love for our great “American experiment in democracy.” And then, if I was really convincing, I hope that you will find some way, somehow, to be a part of it. For those who are already a part of it, my wish is that you will care for it just a little bit more.


Copyright © 2015 by Amy Klobuchar

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Senator Amy Klobuchar Interviewed on Hardball with Chris Matthews

Senator Amy Klobuchar discusses 'The Senator Next Door: A Memoir from the Heartland' on Hardball with Chris Matthews.

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Praise for The Senator Next Door

“Klobuchar, the daughter of a longtime columnist for the Star Tribune in Minneapolis, has a reporter's eye for an anecdote. In her 356-page book, she writes about lessons learned. . . . The Senator Next Door [is] about avoiding the sort of blistering rhetoric and political posturing that makes it hard to forge alliances across party lines to get things done. . . . The book is threaded with tougher lessons, including dealing with her father's alcoholism and her daughter's serious medical problems at birth.” —USA Today

“From the halls of her high school all the way to the United States Senate, Amy Klobuchar's journey is one of incredible perseverance and success. Her story radiates with warmth, humor, and candor. I hope it will inspire women everywhere to take part not only in public life, but in all endeavors in their lives, with the same passion.” —Sheryl Sandberg, author of Lean In

“In this warm and wise book, Senator Klobuchar shows that the ability to find common ground-and to use down-home common sense-is the key to leadership in a democracy. In the tradition of Ben Franklin, she knows that compromisers may not make great heroes, but they do make great democracies. Her book is both a desperately needed wakeup call to our politicians and a delightful memoir that will inspire everyone. Buy one for yourself and give one to an elected official.” —Walter Isaacson, author of Steve Jobs and Benjamin Franklin

“I absolutely loved this book and could … More…

“Klobuchar, the daughter of a longtime columnist for the Star Tribune in Minneapolis, has a reporter's eye for an anecdote. In her 356-page book, she writes about lessons learned. . . . The Senator Next Door [is] about avoiding the sort of blistering rhetoric and political posturing that makes it hard to forge alliances across party lines to get things done. . . . The book is threaded with tougher lessons, including dealing with her father's alcoholism and her daughter's serious medical problems at birth.” —USA Today

“From the halls of her high school all the way to the United States Senate, Amy Klobuchar's journey is one of incredible perseverance and success. Her story radiates with warmth, humor, and candor. I hope it will inspire women everywhere to take part not only in public life, but in all endeavors in their lives, with the same passion.” —Sheryl Sandberg, author of Lean In

“In this warm and wise book, Senator Klobuchar shows that the ability to find common ground-and to use down-home common sense-is the key to leadership in a democracy. In the tradition of Ben Franklin, she knows that compromisers may not make great heroes, but they do make great democracies. Her book is both a desperately needed wakeup call to our politicians and a delightful memoir that will inspire everyone. Buy one for yourself and give one to an elected official.” —Walter Isaacson, author of Steve Jobs and Benjamin Franklin

“I absolutely loved this book and could not put it down. It's smart, funny, moving, and filled with wisdom and insight. I especially related to the extraordinary stories about Amy's immigrant grandparents. The Senator Next Door left me deeply inspired, with renewed hope for the American Dream.” —Amy Chua, author of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother and The Triple Package

“Amy Klobuchar wrote the Lean In of political memoirs... [S]he talks about the events and people that shaped her political beliefs, with some disarmingly funny and honest asides.... [W]e need more politicians like Klobuchar-who can tell their stories energetically and with humor, presenting themselves as dynamic public figures.” —Laura Reston, The New Republic

“Even at her own wedding, Minnesota U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar writes in her new book, she weathered bromides about one day running for president. In The Senator Next Door, an autobiography Klobuchar penned without a ghost writer, she writes about her trajectory from a middle-class Plymouth upbringing to the U.S. Senate, with stops along the way at Yale University and the Hennepin County attorney's office.” —The Star Tribune

“Breezy, witty, serious when necessary and sometimes painfully honest, [Minnesota's] senior senator tells her story from a comfortable front porch rather than an alien Washington, D.C., office.... [A] compelling personal saga.” —Jack Zaleski, Fargo Forum

“Klobuchar's memoir paints the picture of a steady, indefatigable, honest servant of the people. She tells candid (good and bad) stories of growing up the daughter of a legendary local newspaper reporter, her early witnessing of the dangers of alcohol abuse, the end of her parents' marriage, her daughter's early health problems, her first campaign, and her experiences in Washington...[R]efreshingly genuine...Readers will come away feeling a bit more positive about the political system and the people working within it.” —Publishers Weekly

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Reviews from Goodreads

Amy Klobuchar

Amy Klobuchar, the daughter of a newspaperman and a schoolteacher, is Minnesota's senior United States Senator. A Democrat, she was first elected to the Senate in 2006; she was later reelected in a landslide and named to Senate leadership. A national leader, she has a well-earned reputation for working across the aisle to pass legislation that supports families, workers and businesses. She and her husband John have a daughter, Abigail, who is in college.