U.S. Senate: Kurt Bills vs. Amy Klobuchar
The Post-Bulletin editorial board, unlike some media organizations, had the opportunity to sit down with Kurt Bills, the high school economics teacher from Rosemount who had the courage to throw his hat into the ring against Sen. Amy Klobuchar — arguably the most popular politician in Minnesota. Bills admitted that at times it's been a frustrating experience, with some potential Republican donors to his campaign telling him that they're "sitting this one out, because they don't want to align themselves against Amy."
Clearly, he's a long shot — but he's an interesting long shot.
He's a working man, raised in a union household, the son of a welder. He couldn't afford to go to college after high school, so he spent a couple years building highways and bridges and doing asbestos removal. He saved enough money to attend Winona State University, where he supplemented his income in an unusual way. "My college roommates my junior and senior years were actually two Down syndrome individuals." he said. "I was their foster-care provider."
He's taught for 18 years, coached a variety of sports, served on the Rosemount City Council, and in 2010 he was elected to the Minnesota House of Representatives.
We don't know what kind of U.S. Senator he'd be, but we suspect that he's an exceptional economics teacher. After spending an hour with him, we felt as if we'd received a crash-course in what ails the American economic system.
Here, for example, is his take on low interest rates, which most consumers see as a boon.
"We have a savings deficit in this country, and the way we manipulate our currency causes interest rates to be artificially low, to the point where people can't stay in retirement," he said. "My dad was still dragging welding tanks through tunnels when he was 65 because we want to have super-low interest rates so that we can continually borrow. If we let interest rates be market-driven, they'd settle in at a historical average of somewhere between 4 and 6 percent, which allows people on fixed incomes to actually have a retirement. But when you manipulate money to the point where you have zero percent interest rates, that's impossible."
He talks passionately about the overreaching Federal Reserve and the future insolvency of Social Security and Medicare. He's cut from the cloth of Ron Paul and Ross Perot, and he says that America needs to wake up to some harsh truths.
"We all work for money, we all save money, we all try to invest money, and we all spend money. We should probably understand where money comes from and who's in charge of it," he said. "The people who are in charge of America's money are all unelected officials, and the problem I have as someone who has worked for a living my whole life, is that when they print more money, when they expand the money base, that takes down my purchasing power. They're literally taking food out of the mouths of my kids."
Bills is a true believer in the idea that America is speeding toward economic disaster, and he's quite bipartisan as he distributes the blame among Republicans, Democrats, appointed officials — even the American public itself, which for too long has bought into the notion that prosperity can be enjoyed now and paid for later.
There's a good bit of truth in what Bills says, but Minnesota doesn't need crusaders in the Senate. We need people with a wide base of knowledge of national and international affairs. We need people who can work within the system to make government more efficient and effective. We need people who have the respect of their peers, even those on the other side of the political aisle.
That's why we're endorsing Amy Klobuchar for another term in the U.S. Senate.
Of late we've enjoyed watching Klobuchar as she doggedly pursued legislation that didn't make a lot of headlines nationally but made make a real difference in the lives of many Americans. She and Republican U.S. Rep. John Kline teamed up to restore the paid leave that was arbitrarily taken from 49,000 U.S. troops. She also led a long and ultimately successful battle to tighten federal laws against the sale of synthetic drugs.
But the true value of a senator isn't always revealed in the bills they champion. Klobuchar is part of a centrist-leaning bloc of senators who are striving to break the gridlock that plagues Washington — and she says the tide is turning.
"Ever since the debt-ceiling debacle in August of last year, there's been a sea change in the Senate," she said. "People got together and said 'This was an embarrassment — we can't let that happen again.' So we passed the patent reform bill, which was very important to IBM. We got the farm bill done, we got the FAA re-authorization done. We even got a transportation bill done, and no one ever thought we'd get that done. Between 62 and 75 senators voted for each of those bills — senators who were willing to buck the far right and, in some cases, the far left, to reach the compromises."
She's a Democrat, but at times she sounds like a Republican. For example, when we asked her about the importance of green energy and renewable fuels, she instead talked about her visit to the oil and natural gas fields of North Dakota. "Natural gas is a huge component of our energy future in America," she said. "You're starting to see natural gas conversions to large trucks, and St. Cloud is converting its entire bus fleet to natural gas. All of that is going to decrease our dependence on foreign oil, so the trend is moving in the right direction."
When we asked her what ails America's education system, she discussed the persistent achievement gap and the problems that grew out of the No Child Left Behind Act, but she also recommended a common-sense, no-nonsense way to improve kids' academic performance. "I believe we need a greater focus on truancy laws," she said. "It might seem kind of simple or obvious, but it's easy to forget that the number one indicator of how kids are going to do in school is not income or how they are raised — it's whether or not they're actually in school."
But what we appreciate most about Amy Klobuchar is that she can see the big picture. She views the U.S. economy in global terms and emphasizes the urgent need for America to "start making stuff and exporting it again." Foreign aid, which Bills isn't a big fan of, is to Klobuchar an investment in future markets for American goods. "We're seeing amazing promise in Africa, with the potential of some of these countries to create economic power and buying our products. We want to build relationships in those places, because we can't have an economy that just churns money within our borders."
There are rocky waters ahead in the U.S. Senate. The "fiscal cliff" is approaching, Social Security and Medicare must be shored up, and the fact that people have stopped talking about immigration reform doesn't mean that problem has gone away. And, depending on what happens in the presidential race, we might soon witness a no-holds-barred fight over the fate of health-care reform
Regardless of which party is in power, we think the Senate, the state of Minnesota and the entire nation will be better off if Sen. Amy Klobuchar is part of the bargaining process.