Considering Klobuchar: hard to work for or victim of gender bias?

Last Updated by Kevin Woster on

Minnesota Nice, or not.

That’s the question being asked about Democratic U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar these days, after allegations that she’s difficult to work for were folded in around her announcement as a candidate for president.

Apparently, the senior senator from Minnesota has one of the highest rates of staff turnover in the Senate. Apparently, her reputation as a tough boss has complicated hiring for her campaign staff.

In response, Klobuchar admits that she can be “tough” and can “push people.” She also says she has high expectations for herself, her staff and for the nation.

And apparently, she gets things done in the process. She was noted in 2016 for leading the U.S. Senate in the number of bills -- 27 -- that passed with her name on them as sponsor or co-sponsor. (Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer was second with 26.) And she enjoys remarkably high approval ratings in her home state.

Is she too tough? Does she push too hard? Maybe. I don't know. But I’d guess that growing up as the daughter of a well-known journalist —  Minneapolis Star Tribune columnist and author Jim Klobuchar -- whose alcoholism caused predictable family pain and turmoil could make you a little flinty, by necessity.

It might make you wise in certain ways, too, a little demanding and more than a little driven. And Amy Klobuchar has certainly used her assortment of challenges and gifts to excel in her education, her law career and a political career that so far includes two terms as chief Hennepin County prosecutor and, after becoming the first woman elected to the U.S. Senate from Minnesota, 12 years and counting in the Senate.

Beyond my own speculation and what I read, I don’t know anything about Klobuchar’s management style or personality. I don't know if she's mean to the people around her or not.

But in public she seems like a smart, articulate, politically reasonable, hard-working senator who, should she manage to get past her liberal-leaning primary electorate, could appeal to "flyover moderates" like me. And that means she could be formidable in a general election race, particularly in states where Donald Trump sealed the presidential deal in 2016.

So if I were a Democrat — and who knows, maybe I will be by the time the primary arrives next year —  I guess I’d consider Klobuchar pretty seriously as I sorted through the cavalcade of party candidates who have announced, and will announce soon.

And I’d also ask myself how much of the story about Klobuchar’s personality at work and her treatment of staff we can attribute to different standards for men and women. It's sad but true that what is seen as strong willed and decisive for men bosses is sometimes seen as something else entirely for women bosses.

One thing is, I think, certain: In a race for president, especially one that could mean facing Donald Trump, Minnesota Tough would probably be more valuable than Minnesota Nice.

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of SDPB, Friends of South Dakota Public Broadcasting, or the State of South Dakota.