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If you think you enjoy attending the State Fair, try being one of Minnesota’s senators

Courtesy of Sen. Al Franken
Sen. Al Franken speaks with fairgoers at the DFL’s booth.

It couldn’t have been a more beautiful day to open the Minnesota State Fair: clear skies, light breeze, temperatures hovering in the 70s. Sen. Amy Klobuchar was walking down Underwood Street on Thursday afternoon, taking in the delightful weather.

A U.S. Senator walking through a crowded corridor of the Great Minnesota Get-Together, however, doesn’t get a whole lot of time to stop and smell the flowers in the Horticulture Building.

Klobuchar, staffers in tow, made her way through a stream of people, greeting and being greeted, stopping for a former intern, an elderly woman, so on and so forth. At one point, a group of fair-goers sipping craft beer on the sidewalk burst into applause as Klobuchar walked past. “Amy!” they cheered.

A middle-aged woman made a bee line for Klobuchar. “Please be our president!” she exclaimed to the senator as they walked past each other. Klobuchar smiled, laughed, and kept walking — remarking to the well-wisher, and also no one in particular, what a beautiful day at the fair it was.

For Klobuchar and Sen. Al Franken, every day might be a beautiful day at the fair, rain or shine. Following the two Minnesota Democrats around the fair in 2017 is to be in the wake of sustained earnestness from fairgoers — thanking them for their “service” and “work” in this age of Trump — with nary a heckle in earshot.

‘You’ve got a hell of a job’

In this age of political turmoil and anxiety, Minnesota’s two Democratic U.S. senators have both labored to position themselves as voices of reason in Washington, D.C., pushing back against the chaos coming out of Donald Trump’s White House. Both have generated national buzz — presidential buzz — since the 2016 election.

They have not attempted to act as senatorial spear tips of the anti-Trump “resistance.” Though both have criticized the president and his administration, sometimes harshly, neither has been in the “hell no” caucus of Senate Democrats who’ve voted against even Trump’s non-controversial appointments.

These days, as before, Klobuchar talks about the importance of finding common ground and working with Republicans where possible. Franken’s sharp questionings of Trump’s Cabinet appointments were popular among those thirsting for some kind of blow against the president, but he too continues to talk mostly about ways where Democrats and Republicans can work together, on things like infrastructure.

In the eyes of some fair-goers, however, Democratic senators might as well be political warriors returning from the front. “Thank you for your service to our country,” a middle-aged man told Franken on Thursday morning. Outside the Dairy Building, Klobuchar was stopped by several people thanking her for her “hard work.”

Klobuchar said that Republicans have come to her to express their dismay at what’s going on in Washington. An elderly couple waited in line at Klobuchar’s booth, clutching a copies of her 2015 memoir, “The Senator Next Door,” for her to sign. She later said they were self-identified Republicans.

“A lot of people have said things, like, they’re tired of the drama, the tweets in the morning,” Klobuchar said, enjoying a chai-flavored ice cream popsicle at the Minnesota Farmers’ Union booth. “People want to see some more even-keeled governing. They want us to get to work.”

In navigating huge events like the fair, Klobuchar says she encounters four groups of Republicans. “There’s ones I don’t know because they don’t say anything. Then there’s the ones with the hat. Then there’s the, ‘give him a chance, he’s our president,’ and we talk on things we can work on. The fourth group is business people who say this is getting to be a mess, but say we all own this.”

On this last point, Klobuchar laughs. “It’s really interesting.”

Both senators say that they’ve sensed more engagement and interest in D.C. happenings since Trump became president — perhaps fueling the stream of hellos and thank yous that came their way on the fair’s opening day.

“I feel like there is much more interest in the Senate,” Klobuchar said. “People are really focused. They are tuned in and know what’s going on.”

“This year, of course, I think there’s a lot of concern about this president,” Franken said, sitting at a table outside the Minnesota Wine Country building on Underwood Street. (He did not partake of the local Minnesota wines, unlike other fair-goers, in the morning hours.) “We have an unusual situation, a guy who dominates news coverage for whatever reason, because he’s always airing his grievances and showing hostility for people.”

“I haven’t heard any ‘impeach him’ kind of things,” he said of the stream of people lined up to take photos with him outside his stout, blue-and-yellow turret of a booth. “I’ve heard more, just, ‘oh boy, you’ve got a hell of a job.’”

A happy place

Even sea changes in American politics can’t change the immutable dynamic of politicking at the state fair: the unpredictability, the sheer scale of it, the candidness — at least from constituents.

Any given day, the elected officials who attend the fair are surrounded by thousands of people, who can, and often do, approach them to say whatever’s on their mind.

Some might have something specific they want to communicate — whether it’s a policy idea or a comment on a local issue or a personal issue with a government agency. (Both senators attend the fair with a constituent services representative from their office in tow.)

A middle-aged man in sunglasses and gray athletic wear came up to Franken to pitch an idea near a stand for foot-long hot dogs. “Would you introduce a bill to make it mandatory for cell phone companies to make phones inoperable while cars move?” he asked.

Franken’s brow furrowed; he replied that texting while driving was a serious problem. The man insisted that Congress should go further. “The technology is there, I believe it,” he urged Franken. (“Usually, the policy ideas I get are either very general, like ‘keep our health care, or,” Franken deadpanned later, “very specific.”)

The fair can be a place where a politician can bask in the hard-earned rewards for work on behalf of a specific group. At one point, a woman stopped Klobuchar and identified herself as an employee of Delta Air Lines. Last week, Klobuchar and Rep. Tom Emmer joined Delta executives and employees at Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport to advocate for a forceful federal response to counter foreign airlines that receive generous subsidies from their governments. 

“Thank you for fighting for our jobs,” the woman told Klobuchar.

As noon neared outside the grandstand, Franken made his way through an area set up with booths highlighting science, technology, engineering and math education. He took pictures with high school students and picked up a “Girls in STEM” button.

Happy shouts of “Al!” came from the adults staffing the booths, while the kids were more interested in the robot demonstration he was walking through.

Minutes before, Franken had talked about the “uncharted” area that American politics is now in, the North Korea nuclear threat, Trump’s response to white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, the Republican plans to repeal and replace Obamacare. A month full of critical budget fights and debt ceiling battles awaits members of Congress upon their return to Washington, when the fair is over.

But that is later. For now, the weather remained beautiful, Franken said. “The mood is actually pretty good… the fair is always kind of a happy place.”

Comments (13)

  1. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 08/28/2017 - 10:18 am.

    Our senators

    Well they did save our health insurance.

    • Submitted by Mike Downing on 08/28/2017 - 01:06 pm.

      I lost my retiree insurance due to Franken…

      Sadly, I lost my retiree health care insurance due to Franken…

    • Submitted by Tim Milner on 08/28/2017 - 01:49 pm.

      No they did not

      as my company is losing our health insurance as Federated Insurance is leaving the market. So we are out scrambling for a new carrier and hopefully new coverage for our employees.

      Why is Federated leaving the market? They are simply losing too much money as they can’t predict accurately what their expenses will be (and set premiums accordingly.)

      The ACA did a marvelous thing by creating coverage for so many more Americans. But it did nothing to control cost nor did it control appropriate usage of healthcare resources.

      While I am not a big fan of the repeal and replace Republican plan, the Democrats get no pass from me for sitting on their hands and offering nothing to help fix the ACA mess.

      They did NOT save our healthcare.

      • Submitted by Bill Phillips on 08/28/2017 - 02:50 pm.

        Well, let’s see. The Democrats were completely excluded from the process in both the House and Senate, couldn’t offer amendments or propose any ideas, so I’m not sure they need a “pass from you for sitting on their hands.” The Congressional Republicans passed numerous repeal bills during the last six years of the Obama administration, but never had any thoughts for replacement until they were put on the spot this year. A closed door process that hasn’t worked so far, so they have abandoned it for now.

        I have to agree that the ACA wasn’t a real solution to our national healthcare problem – it was a compromise with hospitals and insurers that didn’t address the underlying issues in what is the most expensive and least effective (in terms of coverage of the population) healthcare system in the world. That being said, it’s been a Godsend for my wife and I, since otherwise the premiums for our moderate coverage would exceed my monthly Social Security check.

        Blame Franken and Democrats if you want; I have to thank them for starting a process to expand coverage.

      • Submitted by Kim Destiche on 08/28/2017 - 04:00 pm.

        The best fix for the debacle that is Health Care in the U.S. is Universal Health Care.

      • Submitted by Hiram Foster on 08/29/2017 - 06:16 am.

        They are simply losing too much money as they can’t predict accurately what their expenses will be (and set premiums accordingly.)

        It wasn’t Al Franken or Barack Obama, for that matter, who made health insurance a difficult and challenging business. It was that way, before they entered office. And nothing about Trump Care will make the future easier to predict. One could argue that political uncertainty that destabilizes health care markets is something within our power to reduce, but the party currently in power seems to have no interest in reducing it. Fear, which is fueled by uncertainty, is what they feed on.

      • Submitted by Barbara Boldenow on 08/31/2017 - 06:06 pm.

        Why Obamacare became so unreliable

        Actually when Obamacare became law it had protections for the situations where the costs rose to high. They were called “Risk Corridors” that would kick in if people signing up were sicker and more costly than anticipated. Unfortunately, Senator Marco Rubio slipped a rider into a spending bill that killed the risk corridors. In our for profit system, insurance companies then only got compensated for about 12% of their costs. The insurance companies left town, “premiums shot up and Rubio and his friends rubbed their hand together while cackling gleefully”. Clearly the only efficient and cost effective system is Universal Healthcare, Medicare for all. But the for profit insurance industry pays the politicians not to do that..

  2. Submitted by Mike Downing on 08/28/2017 - 01:00 pm.

    What about the nomination of David Stras?

    Senators Klobuchar & Franken would not have an enjoyable time at the MN Fair if attendees keep asking them why they are blocking (not signing the “blue slip”) the nomination of Minnesota Supreme Court Justice David Stras to the 8th Circuit Court!

    • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 08/28/2017 - 01:37 pm.

      That’s Outrageous!

      Where will this end? If this keeps up, senators may block the nomination of someone to the US Supreme Court.

      Now that would really be scandalous, no? Oh, the horrors!

    • Submitted by Leon Webster on 08/28/2017 - 06:30 pm.

      This happened a lot during the Obama administration — Republican senators did not return blue slips and even in cases where blue slips were returned, hearings were not held. And of course under the McConnell rule, the senate need not pay attention to judicial nominations if the president is of the other party. So cry me a river.

    • Submitted by Joe Musich on 08/28/2017 - 09:28 pm.

      The most wonderful ….

      Myron Orfield has a piece in the Strib nicely explains what the Seators are doing and the reason they are doing it. I suggested a reading. And if you do not change your mind I will wonder how open that mind is ?

    • Submitted by Hiram Foster on 08/29/2017 - 06:19 am.

      The nominees were nominated by a president to campaigned on naming judicial appointments with a very specific political agenda. It certainly is now, perfectly proper to question those nominees concerning that agenda. I don’t really recall Republicans complaining much when the the highly qualified Merrick Garland was blocked for purely political reasons.

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