Klobuchar spoke at Iowa State University as the Fall 2017 Mary Louise Smith Chair in Women and Politics.
Thank you. Wow! Thank you, thank you everyone. This is an incredible crowd, it’s almost as many people as at the Minnesota State Fair. It is just great to be here at Iowa State. I have had so much fun meeting the students, like Natasha, and just seeing their enormous potential and their dreams; it just kind of grounds you at a time where things are just not that easy in my job. So, thank you so much. I want to thank Diane for her great leadership and getting everything done here and her wonderful team. Also, everyone else involved in planning this. Thank you very much.
I did just want to start by mentioning what is happening in Houston. Our thoughts and prayers are with the people there. That story today, that I read, of that mother…the nurse who kept her three-year-old alive and then perished herself with that child in the water laying on top of her is one that you will never forget. We have had our share of floods in the Midwest, in both Iowa and Minnesota. Nothing like a metropolitan area that is the size of New Jersey, but I think it gives us a special place in our heart to understand that we don’t turn our back on other parts of the country. That we are one America and that we will do everything to help Texas. So, thank you.
I do bring you greetings from the state of Minnesota where in the words of our state’s unofficial poet, Garrison Keillor, “All the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the women in politics are above average.” So, it is truly good to be here as you know our states don’t just share a border we also share that love, as I mentioned, of butter sculptures. I just left our Princess Kay of the Milky Way, which, I know you have that cow but we do have 12-butter bus. You know, we have those heads in a revolving refrigerator with the woman in the middle carving all of them. One little trick I found out, I asked the Princess once what they do with their butter bus once the fair ends, and they said, “Well, some of us put them in our mom’s freezer and they kind of degrade.” But, one of them said, “But I bring it to my town’s corn feed and people just dig in.” Okay, so, just a little hint there. We also, of course, have our great college football teams. You guys have the cyclones, and we have a team named after rodents, the golden gophers. But, to be honest, you do prefer a gopher over a Hawkeye, isn’t that right? See, there’s always ways you can get in the rivalry. It’s kind of like the Vikings and the Packers.
My speech today is focused on women in politics but when we are living in this incredible moment in time, I can’t think of a more important place to be than the U.S. Senate right now. I’m also going to talk about some of that and then I’ll take some questions.
So I guess I’ll start with what it’s like to be a woman in the U.S. senate. Well, I’d start by saying it’s really interesting when your junior Senator is Al Franken. It’s not that easy…like when we’re in airports outside of Minnesota, here I am, walking together…colleagues…and someone comes up and says, “Do you work with him?” and I say, “Well yes I do”, and they say, “Will you take my picture with him?” And I just say yeah, kind of want to put it on the selfie mode but I don’t. It actually all culminated when the two of us got on a Delta flight coming out of D.C. going to the Twin Cities at night. It was about half full but the flight crew was from Atlanta. We get on the plane and the flight attendant gets on the microphone and says, “Everyone, we have celebrities on the plane. Mr. and Mrs. Al Franken.” So, the plane was laughing because they all know us and finally Al goes, “No, no, no ma’am she is actually the other United States Senator from Minnesota.” Then she gets on the microphone again and says, “How cool is this? Husband and wife senators!” True story, I actually thought that would be a really good way to start this discussion of women in politics.
You know, in Iowa, you can’t talk about women in politics without talking about Mary Louise Smith. I am proud today to give this lecture in her name, it was so fun to learn all about her getting involved in politics at the grassroots level serving on the school board, noticing her hard work and then rising up in Iowa. And then, President Ford, after the Watergate scandal puts her in as the first person to chair the Republican Party. What is really interesting about her is that she just wouldn’t back down. She served on the board of Iowa’s Planned Parenthood, she cared about civil rights and women’s rights…and whenever people complained about her lack of leadership and called her the “little old lady from Iowa”… I think she wore that as a badge of honor, as I’m sure many would. She got to rebuild her party up at the precinct level at a critical time, and you really think back to 1974 when Mary Louise was appointed head of the Republican National Committee. We had, back then, a controversial president, talk of pardons in the news, and people were afraid the partisan bickering would never end. Well, thank goodness that would never happen today.
Just a few decades before her, to make a jump to Minnesota here, we had our own Mary Louise Smith. It was a democrat, and her name was Coya Knutson and she was our first woman member of Congress, and she kind of ran against the whole party as a democrat…but she ran against their choice and got herself elected in a rural district in 1954. She barnstormed, she drove more than 25,000 miles, sometimes delivering a dozen speeches a day; and against all odds, she won. By all accounts she did a great job in Congress, she lead the fight for the first federal appropriation for cystic fibrosis, she launched the first federal student loan program, she was the first woman to serve on the house agriculture committee, she was reelected in 1956…again against the wishes of the party bosses. And then this happen; her opponents wanted to finally displace her, so they got her husband drunk…he had a drinking problem…and they got him to write a letter that basically said, “Coya come home, I want you to clean the house.” They sent it to the major newspapers and it went statewide. The headline was, “Coya Come Home” and then, sadly, she went on to lose her election. Not only did she lose her election, she lost her election to a six-foot, four-inch Oden Langen whose campaign slogan was, “A big man for a man sized job.” So that is why this is so important we’re talking about this stuff today.
I don’t think you need to look further from these great women that we see…or in the Senate… or the board room or the court room to the State House to see that we’ve made some strides for women. More than 40 percent of mothers right now are the family’s main breadwinner. Many women, and many of you in this room, have really made incredible, historic ground in breaking into the old boys club. Take the Fortune 500; we now have a record 32 women CEO’s. That may not sound like a lot, but only in 1995 there weren’t any. Think of that. We’re making progress in Congress, with a record 21 women in the U.S. senate, but we still have work to do because the numbers are not nearly high enough. 79 men and 21 women, it reminds me of a college mixer. I truly believe we can do better, I don’t know what the right number is…I think if you ask Franken it would be 99 women and him, but, you know, I think that we have a lot of things to do.
How do we get there? I think we get there by not just dwelling on those numbers, actually. People don’t just want to hear…I know this from my election…”Oh we need a woman, oh we haven’t had a women, and oh we need a woman.” I think we need to talk about the impact that the women who are in leadership in whatever job they do have made; and make that case in a very different way. Someone once said that women leaders…I don’t agree with part of this but I agree with the second part…she said that women leaders speak softly but carry a big statistic. I don’t agree with the speak softly part, but I think women leaders have tended to run a lot on accountability. A 2015 Harvard study had three conclusions: One, we work harder (the women). The average women Senator passed more, introduced more bills. Number two, we work together. The average women Senator had more than nine cosponsors compared to six for the men, kind of interesting. And, this one being the most important, we support each other. The women Senators support each other. I’m not surprised because I have seen it first-hand. It is not easy in Washington in the last 10 years. Probably my lowest moment was the fiscal cliff night…where it was New Year’s Eve and the whole country was waiting to see what was going to happen with their taxes and the whole thing was just sitting there. We were voting until three in the morning, this is a true story…midnight on New Year’s Eve, that magical moment, I found myself on the Senate floor and I look to myself and see Harry Reid…I look to my right and I see Mitch McConnell…every girl’s dream on New Year’s Eve…and we somehow got through that, and I thought it can’t get much worse than this. Then, of course, we had the shutdown. A little historic note here…you know who was the architect of that shutdown, Ted Cruz. With what just happened in his home state, I don’t think he is going to be doing that again. So, back then, Republican Senator Susan Collins stood up when we were in the middle of the shutdown and made a plea for people to join her to try and find a solution. I was the first Democrat that called her. We started a group of 14 of us, half women…we let John McCain in, and we came up with an idea about a week or so later; an agreement between the 14 of us. We actually reserved the press gallery three hours later and we went to the leadership on both sides and said we were going to go out there, the 14 of us, with this agreement unless you do something. Two hours later they announced an agreement and we got out of the shutdown. So, that is an example where our numbers may be 21 out of 100, but 50 percent of that group were women. I have seen that time and time again whether it’s Senator Stabenow leading the farm bill, whether it’s Senator Boxer on the transportation bill, Claire McCaskill and Kirsten Gillibrand leading the fight against sexual assault in the military. The Violence against Women Act, the House bill was pretty bad; it was not good on a bunch of issues including LGBT and travel issues, and then at the time… the 20 women in the Senate stood up and said, “We won’t vote for that bill; Democrat or Republican we will only vote for this bill.” Then, we passed that bill and the House had no choice but to do the stronger bill. So, I have seen that time and time again with the women in the Senate. Sometimes it’s a bit more amusing, like the time that I was in the Women Senator’s bathroom, after we were at 21 Senators women, and I sent out a tweet that went viral. It said, “For the first time in the history of the United States of America there is a traffic jam in the Women Senator’s bathroom.” And then after that, Senator Mikulski…being one of the women Senators…started our own “Expand the women’s bathroom” committee. Schumer got us some space in the back and we had a very important meeting with the male senate architect and his staff all on one side, Senator Mikulski and I on the other…he gives us a plan and she looks at me and says, “Um, this only adds one stall…this is a bathroom of the present, not the future. Not for when we have 50 women Senators.” I said, “This is a glass ceiling women’s bathroom plan!” Needless to say that was the end of that, we got our way…we have those stalls…and we are ready for these 50 women.
How do we move ahead? Well I’d say the first is that we have dinner, the women Senators, just the 21 of us…I’d say usually about 15 people can come on any day, which is pretty incredible for the Senate…and of course we never talk about the male Senators (chuckles). And, that kind of comradery has made a difference, it’s the same comradery I’ve found in the prayer breakfast group which is like 25 Senators. People like Sheldon Whitehouse…half democrats and half republicans… about 60-70 Senators talk about their lives every two years. They just tell stories, not always religious, but what is said in that room stays in that room; it’s an incredible group to try and understand your colleagues and find them where there is that common ground and that higher ground. I have found ways to work with everyone…your two Senators here, Joni Ernst and I actually worked really hard at getting the World War II women pilots to be able to be buried at Arlington Cemetery; something they had been denied since World War II and we got that changed. Chuck Grassley and I have worked together on the Renewable Fuel Standard, which is pretty important for Iowa, and actually a bill to lower prescription drug costs which I’ll mention later. I just think you look for that common ground where you can find it.
The second thing, as we look at women in politics, is that women have to look out for each other. I’ll never forget…and that means trying to encourage each other at the school, trying to encourage each other to run for office…I’ll never forget when I was at my first day in the Senate, I had no idea what I was doing in this super fancy lunch place…you know in the LBJ room with this big portrait on…all of this nice china… I go over and get a salad and a cup of soup, I bring it over, I’m ready to dive in-spoon midair- only Patty Murphy at my table, jumps up, runs around, grabs my arm and says, “Amy, you just took the entire bowl of Thousand Island dressing and you’re about to eat it.” I said, “That’s what we do in Minnesota, we eat the Thousand Island dressing.” No one else helped me but her.
You look at the health care debate that just happened, and I know my good friend John McCain...I was so excited to hear that he was coming back to the Senate after the recess… and he got a lot of well-deserved attention for his speech, and then a big thumbs down on a bill that the president himself called “mean” that would have caught 20 million people off of insurance; despite the fact that, like so many people in Iowa, in my state we want to see changes to the Affordable Care Act to make the exchanges more affordable. That was not the answer. But, get lost in it sometimes, yes, John took that vote but right there were those two women republicans: Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski that joined all of the democrats, and we had their back. So, the other thing about this that I would say is that women have persevered through time, and I’ll give you some examples of this. Susan and Lisa, that example, where they got so much heat from their own party and stood up and did the right thing. Or, how about this one…before Oprah was Oprah she was fired from her job co-anchoring the 6 p.m. news in Baltimore. I’d love to know who that person is and what they’re doing now. Before her series sold more than 450 million copies, J.K. Rowling’s first Harry Potter book was rejected by 12 different publishers. Lisa Murkowski, who I just mentioned, lost the Republican Party nomination in 2010, but instead of giving up she ran as a write-in candidate…and do you remember this? People had to spell the word Murkowski right or it didn’t count…and she had these wristbands made and those people in Alaska came in and she literally got 100,000 Alaskans to physically write in her name, and she won. Okay, that is perseverance.
For me, I will say, I got involved in all of this in a persevering way; it was when my daughter was born, she was really sick, I wasn’t in elected office so I was working at a law firm, and she couldn’t swallow. I was at the hospital with my husband and they kicked me out of the hospital within 24 hours. She was in intensive care, I hadn’t slept at all, they’re trying to teach me all of this stuff I am supposed to do, we don’t know if she is going to live or die and they kick me out. I went back to the legislature, I had never testified before, and I went there as a mom. I teamed up with a guy that had that happen to his wife as well, who is in the legislature testified. That was when I learned, if you want to get something done in front of a nearly all male committee, you just start talking about embarrassing things like episiotomies. They’re like okay! Okay! Then, we went to a conference committee and the lesson I learned there was that, although the bill to get a 48-hour hospital stay for new moms and their babies, we were one of the first states that passed that bill after I testified. People were trying to delay, some of the lobbyists were trying to delay when it would take effect. So, I found six pregnant friends and I brought them to the conference committee so they outnumbered the lobbyists 2:1; and when the committee said, “Well, when should this take place?” All of my pregnant friends raised their hands and said, “Now!” Not only did it pass, they moved up the effective date so it took place the next day and every one of those women got to take advantage of it. That is how I got hooked on getting involved in politics. So, from there, I ended up running for County Attorney in Hennepin which, you know, is our biggest county and the biggest prosecutor’s office; I supervised 400 people in that office. I did that for eight years and then when Mark Dayton, who is now our Governor, decided not to run for Senate again I ran for Senate. That was really interesting because we had never had a woman win a Senate seat; and we had only had two women in Congress the whole time. I know Iowa has had issues with this as well, when I was running. We had two women run for Senate and both of them had lost; honestly they were both incredibly well qualified, but a lot of the themes of their campaigns were, “We need a woman in the job.” So, a lot of our press was used to that and they would always ask that question. I would say, “Sure we do, but I’m not just running because we want a woman in the office, I’m running on my background as a prosecutor and what I want to do in the United States Senate.” Then I would say, “Last time I checked, half of the voters are men. So, if I just ran as being a woman, I wouldn’t win.” All of the guys would go…yeah…yeah… I really have never used that since, I’m just giving a weird tip that I used back then. I was surprised how many times I would be asked by the media, in meetings, on if a woman could win…and I’d have to say a woman won in Texas. A woman won in Arkansas. I would just have to go through all of this which doesn’t happen anymore. It is really quite amazing. So, I don’t really want to dwell on that, but would rather dwell on the future because I think, as we are looking at our politics today, the answer is “Don’t get mad,” right? Some people say don’t get mad, get even but I say, “Don’t get mad, get elected.” So, that is this part that I wanted to talk about.
The first thing is…for students especially, don’t expect your first job in politics to be so glamorous. My first job in politics was working for Vice President Mondale. I was in college, I got a job as an intern…I thought I was going to write all of these policy pieces. Instead, my job was to do all the furniture inventory for every staff member that worked for the Vice President of the United States. I had to crawl under the desk and write down the serial numbers. It took three weeks. I learned two things from that experience. One, the Vice President was very honest…nothing was missing. Secondly, take your job very seriously when you are an intern because that was my first job in Washington, and this was my second.
I think another piece of this is to surround yourself with supportive people, you’ve got to be expecting to be attacked here and there. Do you remember when the words were spoken about Senator Elizabeth Warren, my colleague? She was warned, she was given an explanation, and nevertheless she persisted. Well, guess what, that has become a rallying cry all over the country and 200 women in Minnesota had it tattooed on themselves one day. Another example of that…Todd Akin in 2012 accused my colleague, Senator Claire McCaskill, of being unladylike. Do you remember that? Senator McCaskill told this audience, I think told an Iowa audience… that the traits needed to excel in leadership, to speak out, be strong, take charge, and change the world are traits she sees as being very ladylike, and I agree. A favorite example of the women supporting each other and kind of standing up for yourself was actually the finance committee back when we were debating the Affordable Care Act. Debbie Stabenow was on that committee and it was kind of a not-so-exciting proceeding. It was on C-Span, you know, few people were watching…and one of our then Republican colleagues actually was talking about the Affordable Care Act. He said, “Well I don’t know why you’d need maternity benefits in there, I’d never need them.” Debbie looks up without missing a beat and said, “I bet your mother did,” and we got them in there.
The other thing, as I look at our students here, is just to be persistent. My first race for that County Attorney job I got out outspent 2:1. But, I went to 29 parades, 3,000 lawn signs we put up, and 75 pancake breakfasts and I won by less than, I think it was 11 votes per precinct. Oh no, two votes actually. I figured out that if I had maybe done 60 pancake breakfasts I wouldn’t have won. So that is the kind of thing I think we need, and the excitement we need to move forward; remembering it’s not easy, but in the end it’s all worth it.
So, now I just want to speak a few minutes and then take some questions about what’s been going on. I really have to real back to election night when Al and I were going all around our state. I got home around midnight and I knew it was going, from my perspective, very badly. I got a text from my daughter, who was in college her senior year, and she was at Hillary’s party in New York. I forgot that she was there…all night, I just forgot about it. I had this horrible mom guilt when I saw this text. It’s like 1 a.m. in New York and the text says, “Mom, what should we do now?” I wrote this long text back that said, “You and your roommate need to leave now. This isn’t going well, she’s not going to speak, the subways are still running, you’re staying with our friends and you have class tomorrow.” That’s what I wrote. She wrote back, “Mom…I mean our country.” That is literally the question I think many of us have been asking every single day since then. I told my daughter that night that our country has been through many tough times before; wars, injustice, discrimination, financial crises, and deep sea accord. Somehow we always come out on the other side. I like to remind some of my friends, some of which are marching…and some of which are in watching TV and putting the blanket in over their heads…Yes, we resist, but we also insist on a better way forward for our country. That includes democrats and republicans. I think there is no more important time to ask this question than right now. After what we saw last month: Neo-Nazis, White Supremacists reaping havoc on one of our nation’s cities. An innocent woman killed, two police officers who were just doing their jobs died. The President, he said there are many sides to blame for what happened. Well, I don’t think there are two sides to this. I think there is only one side to this and it is the American side. That is why I go back to why the Senate is such an important place to be right now. It is a place where compromises can be reached and have been reached and better be reached next month when we deal with the debt ceiling and the budget and all of these things that have deadlines coming up. It is also an emergency break. So, when they tried to take Health Care away from over 20 million people, 48 Senate democrats…from Joe Manchin to Bernie Sanders stood together and said no; joined by three courageous republicans. No, we’re not going to defund Planned Parenthood. We are not going to kick people off of Medicaid, and we won. We did that by sticking together. When the President decided to take us out of the climate change agreement, leaving us with Nicaragua and Syria, our Mayors in many of our country’s cities, our business leaders of many of our companies, our Governors in many of our states said, “No. If he’s not going to meet those climate goals, we will.” That is what I’m talking about here…it’s not just resisting, it’s insisting on a better way forward. The Election Integrity Commission, when they tried to force states to turn over sensitive voter information, voting history, even social security numbers…State officials from both parties said no.
I believe personally…just so you know something I’m going to do when I get back…we shouldn’t make it harder for people to vote, right? We should make it easier for people to vote because, in this time of great distrust, that’s how voting as an exercise is so important to our civic world here in the United States. Minnesota has, sorry about this…this year…Minnesota had the highest voter turnout. You know whenever I would talk before the election I would always go, “We can’t be beat by Iowa for voter turnout! We can’t be beat by Wisconsin!” So, this last time, while Iowa was right up there Minnesota had the highest voting turnout in the country; that’s what I think we should see everywhere. That’s why, when I get back in a week or so, I’m introducing a bill that would automatically register eligible voters, in the entire country, when they turn 18. We should be making it easier for people to vote. While we’re at it…I think it would be nice to get rid of all of that dark money out of our politics and get a constitutional amendment to turn back Citizens United. The other thing about this, and maybe we can do this on questions but, the work right now of the investigations going on…we’re going to have hearings, I believe next week, in the Senate Judiciary Committee…you know there have been hearings in the Intelligence Committee but my number one goal is to make sure that they special prosecutor is allowed to do his job and do what he needs to do, and not get fired. So, that has got to be a lot of the work that we do.
That’s the emergency break part as we look at what else we should be doing for our country. I always believe we are living right now at a time where we can finally govern from opportunity and not just crisis like we had in the downturn. This is a country that does its best when we make stuff, when we invent things, when we export to the world. Coming down here today and seeing those corn fields and thinking about our shared American scientists Norman Borlaug; that Minnesota and Iowa kind of shared…but his statue is yours. I think about that and I think about this innovation engine that we have in our two states. One of the things that I think we should be working on is really looking at our degrees and our education system. Figuring out how we can have paths for students, no matter where they’re at…no matter where they come from. Just so you know, my sister…she never graduated from high school. She had some issues and she came down to, guess where? Iowa. She got her GED here, she worked at a plant, and she got a 2-year degree here in Iowa. She went on to get two more years of school, graduated with a 4-year degree and took the accounting exam in Iowa. That year she got the highest score in Iowa on her accounting exam. That is a story that you see replicated across the country. We have so many jobs in the trades and welding and those things, we have to make sure we have a balance of jobs and that we make apprenticeships easier.
Infrastructure; that was the first thing the President talked about when he got elected on election night, if everyone remembers that speech. That is what he talked about so we would really like to work with him on this, you know, I just live a few blocks from where that bridge fell down on a beautiful summer day. As I said, that day, a bridge doesn’t just fall down in the middle of America, but it did. We rebuilt that bridge in a year in Minnesota. We put a bunch of money into infrastructure as a result of that. Just a few years ago, Minnesota got ranked the number one state to do business in by MSNBC…what they focused on is that we had put money into education, and we put money into transportation. So, I just think this infrastructure issue is huge. It’s huge, as you know, as we try to get goods to market in the Midwest and it should be a major rallying cry for my party going forward. Investing in jobs in America, putting incentives in place for jobs in America, and making sure that we do something smart with immigration reform. Sometimes people don’t remember that 25% of our U.S. Nobel laureates were actually born in other countries. Seventy of our Fortune 500 CEO’s are from other countries. We should not cut off the world’s talent. We can be smart about security screenings and we can be smart about all of those things; because in the end, that rhetoric, produces a story like we had in Minnesota where a family went out to dinner…parents and two kids…a guy walks by and says, “You four go home. Muslim family. You go home to where you came from.” The little girl looks up at her mom and she says, “Mom, I don’t want to go home. You said we could eat out to dinner tonight I don’t want to eat dinner at home.” You think of the words of that innocent child…she only knows one home, and that’s my state. She only knows one country and that’s the United States of America. When you hear all of this mean rhetoric, remember that girl.
The last thing I would mention with this is just bringing costs down for families. I am leading the bill on prescription drugs; to bring drugs in from Canada…actually, Bernie, who I know is at some obscure university somewhere in Iowa today…he and I talked before I spoke and I told him I was going to mention our amendment. I also have the same kind of bill with John McCain. We can see Canada from our porch in Minnesota, so we’d like to bring in those less-expensive drugs from Canada.
I’ll just end with this…tying this all together… that, as I said, this is about resisting and insisting on a better future. Day two, after the inauguration, we had millions of people show up around the country. 26,000 people marched at the Iowa State Capitol. Day three, 6,000 women signed up to run for office. On day 9, people spontaneously flocked to the airports objecting to that refugee ban. On day 100, my favorite march, the march for science, my favorite sign…”What do we want? Science. When do we want it? After peer review.” On day 186, came the Health Care vote…and you know when you look at all of this there is something quite simple, and that is something that Walter Mondale once said. I saw it once in the Carter Mondale museum…I was the only one that went there looking for memorabilia. (Inaudible) But, there was a sign and it was the words he spoke when their term was over. At the time I wrote it down and it seemed kind of simple, just like the Maya Angelou that you had talked about. It said this, “We told the truth, we obeyed the law, and we kept the peace.” Think of how simple those words were. We told the truth, we obeyed the law, and we kept the peace; that is the minimum standards that Americans should expect from their government. I would go even further. When I looked out of that window today driving down here I saw opportunity. While the person in the White House may see darkness, I see light. I want you all to see this, not as just a moment to overcome in our history, I want you to see this as an opportunity. An opportunity to show the world what America is really about, to show the United States what the Midwest, what Minnesota and Iowa and our grassroots politics are all about, and to show all of the people in this state…all of you coming out to this lecture on a beautiful night…that you care about the government, and that you care about a better way, and that we’re going to get there. So, thank you very much. It was great to be here. Thank you.
Q: I’m actually going to ask a question on behalf of one of the great students that was at my table. I won’t name her and embarrass her, but we were talking about student government and she said, “My friend and I jokingly talked about running for student government President because we didn’t know if there had been one at Iowa State that had been a woman.” The rest of us at the table said, “Don’t say that jokingly, say it seriously.” So, what can you say to some of these students who think about it but think they can’t do it? How do they start?
A: Well, you first start with your friends. You get people together and you say you want to do this. Make sure you want to do it, first of all, and you’re not just doing it to get it on your resume. I think that’s very important. By the way, that can happen in big-time politics as well. And then you just go for it. I think so many times people get afraid of doing things like this because they think they’re going to lose. Right? But, I use those examples of Oprah and J.K. Rowling because a lot of people lose some before they win. So, that just can’t be the overriding reason not to do it. If you don’t want to do it, that’s fine. But don’t do it just because you think you’re going to lose because I think that holds back a lot of women; especially from running. I also think sometimes girls and women think they don’t know enough to run; and there has been study after study about this. We once had a candidate that said, “Well, trade is a really big issue where I am so I don’t think that I can run.” Someone looked at her and said, “Really? Because guys just say, ‘Well, I own a Volvo so I know about trade.’” You really have to…I know when I ran for Senate, I had been this County Attorney for eight years but I didn’t know a lot of the national issues. But, I knew that I could run things and I knew that I wanted to do a good job for my state. So, every morning I would get up…because I had my job as a County Attorney…and I would have two people come over. One of whom had worked in the Senate as a legislative director, and one who I knew from my work. They would come over…for some reason, I think it was 6:30 every morning, and I would go downstairs in my bathrobe…so I would greet them and we would go over issue by issue by issue, and we did it for three months. By the time I announced…because I was like a lot of women, I didn’t want to announce and just go, “Hey, I’m good” and not be able to answer any of the questions. It just bugged me, I wanted to have a plan. I took care of that issue by actually learning everything and doing it on my own time. So, I wouldn’t have wanted to get in with one day’s notice. I did it that way and it worked, so, I think you just have to get in that comfort zone where you feel like you know what you’re doing. You have to do that first. And then at the same time you’re getting together what you need to run. Luckily for student council you don’t need to raise money…as much, I suppose you have to put up some signs. But, in a U.S. Senate campaign you have to raise 10 million dollars. Someone had remembered what I had said here at another talk I gave…this was a true story…it was so hard for me to raise money nationally because I hadn’t ever been in Congress…no one could pronounce my name or would answer my calls…one month, right in August, about 3 months before the election I gave up calling anyone nationally for money. I got all of my old address books and I called everyone I knew in my life and I set what is still an all-time Senate record. I raised 17,000 dollars from ex boyfriends. As my husband has pointed out, it is not an expanding base. So, I tell that story because you’ve got to just go with what you have. And then go from there.
Q: Hello. First I’d like to thank you for your speech today. Secondly, for my question, I need a little bit of background for it. My sister, my younger sister, is looking at colleges right now and she’s been going on a few college visits. She said something to me that really broke my heart. She said, “Evan- I don’t want to be seen as a woman engineer, I want to be seen as an engineer.” So my question is, what can we do…what can I do as a man…what can we all do to inspire women and show that they can strive to be what they want to be. And, also, how can we do this without patronizing them and making them think, even though you’re a woman engineer you’re just an engineer, and even though you’re a woman senator you’re just a senator?
A: Thank you, that’s a great question and I think that’s getting at some of what I was talking about. Thank you for being a man breaking the glass ceiling and asking that question. That was very good. My first answer is Natasha, who is getting an Ag major. Am I right about that? In the college of Ag, so…you wonder what a woman going into science or Ag or one of those fields looks like? You just saw her. That’s what Barbara Mikulski would say. They would say to her, “I don’t think you quite look like a Senator,” and she would go, “This is what a Senator looks like.” I think we just have to change that mentality by getting the numbers…by getting more women in there. How do you do that? You do that in part by getting girls comfortable with engineering, science, technology, and math at a young age. You all know this, in elementary school. You do this by how you make it easier for everyone to go into these fields by making student loans more affordable. That’s why I support Elizabeth’s bill to refinance student loans by bringing that money in from the Buffet Rule, which would put us in a much better place and bring down the cost of college in many other ways. Then, I think the other thing you need to do is have work places that are open to hiring women. A lot of this can be what the environment is like. Not everyone wants to go sit in a cubical by themselves and that’s why I’ve seen a lot of computer places and things in the Twin Cities that actually have open places where people go and they bring their laptops and they work. It is much more communicative. My favorite story about this was one of our Ag manufacturers…and you have some here as well. I went and I visited one plant and they had a bunch of women there. They were promoting women and blah, blah, blah. Then I went to the other plant and the guy said, “We’re really having trouble hiring workers which you know is a bigger problem in our rural plants. We don’t have enough workers, I want more women here.” I’m in this cab with him, way up, it’s just the two of us…and I said, “Well, have you ever considered that it’s like really cold here? You don’t have any heat in here.” He said, “The guys don’t mind.” I go, “No, I just think it’s really cold and this other place wasn’t so cold.” So anyways, I went on my Facebook page that I had visited both places…nice things. And then I get the comments, there were three comments; one woman wrote, “My brother used to work there but it got too cold,” so I laughed. I called the guy and told him the environment matters if you want to higher people! So, I think that there’s a funny story about it, but we’re really trying to set up a workplace where people have mentors, where they’re comfortable in that workplace. Also, where it’s easier for whatever you go into. I’d love to see more apprenticeships, tax credits, for employers to help pay off some of the loans of students. There’s a bunch of things we should be doing to get ready for this economy but we’re not going to get there if we leave out the hidden figures. My favorite movie that I thought should win the Oscar.
Q: Hi Senator, I am an Iowa State Student and a Type I Diabetic and I just wanted to thank you, first of all, for showing leadership and demanding answers from the insulin companies back in early July. As you know, insulin prices have gone up 160%. I was just wondering if you had ever heard anything back from them and then also, if there was anything besides the importation of drugs from Canada that can be done.
A: I was getting too bored of my own speech so I didn’t put all of that in there. Okay, so let me tell you what we need to do. First of all, let me tell you…and I said this on Trevor Noah the other day…one of our big problems here honestly is that the pharmaceutical companies basically own Washington. There is just way too much power there and it stopped us; while there are some good bills, we never seem to get a vote on them…and that time has got to end because, as she pointed out, I think EpiPen got a lot of attention. My daughter carries an EpiPen so I was right out on there. It was an outrageous price increase, as you know, and the public pressure brought that price down and vowed for coupons and generics. Well, you can’t take every drug and start a social media campaign about it. Four of the top ten drugs in America have gone up over 100% in just the last few years. What we need, first of all, is to unleash the power…and I am leading this bill and we are going to get an amount vote on this, it has just been going on too long. 41 million seniors…you don’t think they can get a bargain? We have to unleash the power of 41 million seniors and take up the band, get rid of the band that stops them from negotiating under Medicare Part D. That’s number one. And, you out there you think that you’re not quite a senior…it’ll help everyone because it will bring the drug prices. Two, more competition…Canada, other countries with safe drugs…maybe you could put a trigger if the drug prices go up so much. I have a bill with Mike Lee on this. Or, if you don’t have enough competitors that you can bring in safe drugs from other countries…we do that with drug shortages. I think that would be an incentive for them to keep prices down in the U.S. Number three is more generics. Senator Grassley and I have a bill that stops this practice called “Pay for delay,” which basically says…this is unbelievable…that big pharmaceutical companies can pay off generics to keep their products off the market. That is true, that is happening now and we would save 3 billion dollars over 10 years if we stopped that, for taxpayers and probably an equal amount for consumers. Those are just a few of the examples, I have more. People should be demanding this left and right; it is 20% of our Health Care costs when you include hospital pharma costs. It has grown over the years and it is just wrong.
Q: Good evening Senator, thank you. I just want to ask…it is a policy question…but it affects women and families. When do you think that we will see movement with policies such as: equal pay for equal work, affordable high quality child care, and paid family leave that not only affects women, but does affect men?
A: I support those policies and I think we’re starting to see some of them in states which, by the way, the laboratories of democracy is really important right now; when we’re seeing this stagnation when I think we should be governing from opportunity. There is growing support I would say…first of all, under President Obama, as you all know…the first bill he signed into action was the Lilly Ledbetter Law. That was really good. We have other bills that are out there that have some growing support; there’s been a lot of talk by some people in the administration about child care costs and work family leave. We don’t want to have a bill that’s just window dressing, we want to have a real bill that makes a difference. I think that the time will come, I can’t give you an exact date right now, but I think there is growing support for that. As you know, Kiersten has worked hard on this issue…there is a number of people that have been leading the way especially some of the women Senators. We can’t be the only developed nation without a strong family leave policy. That makes no sense for the United States of America.
Q: Hello. So, you talked about the cost of prescription drugs being lowered. What are your thoughts on mental health in the state of Iowa and Minnesota as well?
A: That’s a really good question only because something I didn’t mention here was your former great Senator Tom Harkin who has taken such a lead over the years on health care and mental health care, and help for the disabled. One thing that I always loved about Tom was that his best friend in the United States Senate was Paul Wellstone…and, as you know, we passed the Wellstone Diminished Mental Health Parody Law a few years ago…something after Paul’s death. We continue with David Wellstone’s help to getting that implemented the right way. We did pass a bill with the Biden moonshot last year for cancer research…we passed a mental health bill that I think is going to be helpful for a lot of people in terms of getting treatment and the access that they need. Right now, I think honestly, our goal is to hold our ground…make sure we keep the Mental Health Parody in place, pushing an administration…that I hope will be open to this…to continue the implementation of that and making sure we don’t lose ground because of funding. When you look at some of the cuts that have been proposed, two health care…including what we just saw on Medicaid…which we fought and won…or you look at some of the other cuts across the board…I think that should be a real big concern on the mental health front. As a former prosecutor I know that many of our cases that we had in the office could have been prevented if people had been given the kind of mental health treatment that they needed. You see many cases across the country and I think it is still one of the saddest things we see. We haven’t taken on this illness like Paul, whose brother had so severely, and Paul would always talk about how their house was always dark because nobody wanted to face the stigma and admit that his brother Steven had severe mental health problems. He wanted to turn the lights on and get it out there. I do think that has changed a bit in our country. There has been more discussions about it and more talk about mental health. I personally am taking on the eating disorder issue which, by the way here’s a big women’s issue…anorexia is actually the number one cause of death out of any mental illness. Would you have guessed that? Maybe not. It’s been very hard to get coverage so, for years, we worked on this and Tom Harkin had the bill. He passed it on to me when he retired and then I was somehow able to get some women Republicans on the bill and last year we were able to pass that bill. So, it said the Mental Health Parody Previsions apply for treatment and rehab for eating disorders. Change takes a while, but change happens so we will continue this fight in Paul’s honor and taking the torch from Tom.
Q: Hi Senator. It seems like Health Care is the topic tonight, so I am going to ask about Health Care. I work in a pharmacy and today I talked to somebody who has worried about their child getting prescriptions and to the doctor. So, it seems like…we had a free clinic here in Ames, when Obama Care came about we lost that because people were able to afford Health Care with subsidies. Now, they don’t have that. My question is…we’ve been sort of dancing around this…would you support Medicare for all?
A: I would love to see Health Care for all. I think that is one way, and I know Bernie has been pushing for that, there’s a lot of us that want to look at that and see that as an option. But, we want to see how it would work. Medicaid for all, actually, and expanding Medicaid is another way. Public option is something that I strongly support. Under the existing Health Care bill…I am just looking at what we can pass with a Republican president and Republicans controlling both houses right now. The bottom line is…you can’t pass a major bill, like the Affordable Care Act and never make any changes to it. I think the most immediate change that we want to see is making those exchanges more affordable. You’ve seen this in Iowa…ideas out there that are working on. We’re going to get started right when we get back. We’re working with a bunch of governors on this and it is really serious. As you know, the President has been throwing darts at Mitch McConnell…more than hardly any Democrats in part because McConnell was willing to say, “Let’s be pragmatic about this and see if we can make some changes.” Those changes include something with reinsurance, something with cost sharing…I’d love to see something done on Pharma. I think you’re going to see a bunch of bills on Medicaid, Medicare expansion; including for everyone, some going down to 55. I think we just need to get all of those ideas out there. The public option for certain. A lot of the Democrats, including myself, got on a resolution for public option. That’s something that right now we would more easily fit into the Affordable Care Act and those are some of the things that we are working on. But, for me, having to see this repeal, repeal, repeal…and then finally have the American people see when they saw what this replacement was that kicked 20 million people off of Health Care…I think it had 18% or something like that. It got to a point where, something that I don’t think happens in politics where about a month or two ago, a poll came out and it showed that Obama Care and the Affordable Care Act was more popular than the President of the United States. We are continuing to advocate for the strongest Affordable Care Act while clearly thinking ahead, as you point out, to these options that will make it better for everyone.