Klobuchar's office sees increased traffic due to empty Senate seatby Mark Zdechlik, Minnesota Public Radio
Even though it's been months since last fall's general election, it is far from clear how long Minnesota will have just one senator. Being short a senator could affect individual Minnesotans and, quite possibly, national politics.
St. Paul, Minn. — Call the U.S. Senate offices Republican Norm Coleman has staffed for the past six years and you get a taped message telling you the office is closed.
There's no one there to help you if you're having a problem with Social Security or an issue with your veteran's benefits or if you're trying to put together an international adoption.
It is a different story at the offices of DFL Sen. Amy Klobuchar.
For Minnesotans Klobuchar is the only way to get the clout of the U.S. Senate behind them to try to break through the federal government bureaucracy.
Klobuchar's State Director Zach Rodvold said there's been such a spike in demand for help that staffers normally not directly involved in case work are taking on projects. Front-line receptionists are now helping jumpstart cases, and more people are being asked to help handle all of the calls.
"We've seen dramatic increases in the number of phone calls that are coming into our office, and our individual case workers have seen roughly a doubling in their case loads," Rodvold said. "So we are much busier now than than we were at this time certainly last year. I think part of that can be attributed to the economic times and part of it to the situation in the other Senate race."
It's anyone's guess how long Klobuchar will have to act as both Minnesota's junior and senior Senator. Given Coleman's legal challenge to the recount it will certainly be weeks. It could easily be months.
Rodvold said the Klobuchar offices are so far keeping pace using existing resources. He said if the Senate vacancy drags on for a long time, something might need to be done to help cover the cost of all of the extra work.
Carleton College political scientist Steven Schier said there's no question being short a senator will cut into constiuent services.
Schier said Minnesotans could also be getting less than they deserve legislatively with only one Senator.
"Well it's pretty clear we're going to go without a senator for at least two or three months," he said, "and and these are two or three consequential months in national government. "
Not only is there a new Democratic president, there are also wider Democratic majorities in the House and Senate. Schier said the legislative agenda will be full and that missing an important top-level member of the delegation could cut into Minnesota's bottom line, especially during the debate on the economic stimulus.
"The way to think about the budget stimulus is it's going to be a big pot of money, and legislative hands are going to be all over that pot trying to gather some money," he said. "And in fact we have one less set of hands working at that. So there may be a disadvantage for the state in getting adequate share of the stimulus dollars."
Although Klobuchar will not be up for re-election until 2012 she traveled the nation campaigning for other Democrats including Al Franken going into last fall's election.
At the Minnesota DFL State Convention last spring, Klobuchar passionately told activists just a few more votes on either side can have dramatic policy implications.
"Two more votes and we would have passed the Senate's economic stimulus package that would have gone long beyond when those rebate checks are cashed and guarantee funding for our new energy policy and infrastructure and a long-term economic plan in this country," she said.
Washington University political scientist Steven Smith said Klobuchar's majority membership and good relations with Democratic leadership should position her well to advocate for Minnesota's interests. But Smith agreed that Minnesota's under-representation in the Senate could have an impact on national legislation.
"It could be though that the Democrats lacking a vote from say a Sen. Franken or the Republicans a Sen. Coleman could actually tip the balance on some issues," he said. "There are going to be some issues. They're going to be some very difficult fights that will come down to just a handful of votes in the Senate."
And that is precisely why tens-of-millions of dollars went into Minnesota's senate race and millions more are being poured in from both sides in hopes of securing the now-empty seat.
- Morning Edition, 01/14/2009, 7:25 a.m.