Transcript of Al's video message

Hi, I’m Al Franken. I'm running for the United States Senate here in Minnesota.

I'd like to talk to you about why I'm running.

I’m not a typical politician.  I’ve spent my career as a comedian. Minnesotans have a right to be skeptical about whether I’m ready for this challenge, and to wonder how seriously I would take the responsibility that I’m asking you to give me.

I want you to know: nothing means more to me than making government work better for the working families of this state, and over the next twenty months I look forward to proving to you that I take these issues seriously. 

Today, however, I want to take a few moments to explain to you why I take these issues personally. 

My family moved to Albert Lea from New Jersey when I was four years old.  My dad never graduated high school and never had a career as such, but my mom’s father, my grandpa, owned a quilting factory out East and gave my dad a chance to start up a new factory in Albert Lea.  After about two years, the factory failed, and we moved up to the Twin Cities.

Years later, I asked my dad, “Why Albert Lea?”  And he said, “Well, your grandfather wanted to open a factory in the Midwest, and the railroad went through Albert Lea.”

So, I asked him, “Why did the factory fail?”

And he said, “Well, it went through Albert Lea, but it wouldn’t stop.”

That was my dad – great guy, terrible businessman.  He got a job as a printing salesman, and my mom worked as a real estate agent.  The four of us – I have an older brother, Owen – lived in a two-bedroom, one-bath house in St. Louis Park.

That was my childhood.  I grew up in a hard-working middle class family just like many of yours.  And as a middle-class kid growing up in Minnesota back then, I felt like the luckiest kid in the world.  And I was.

My wife, Franni, whom I met our freshman year of college, wasn’t quite as lucky.  When she was seventeen months old, her dad – a decorated veteran of World War II – died in a car accident, leaving her mother, my mother-in-law, widowed with five kids.

My mother-in-law worked in the produce department of a grocery store, but that family made it because of Social Security survivor benefits.  Sometimes there wasn’t enough food on the table, sometimes they turned off the heat in the winter – this was in Portland, Maine, almost as cold as Minnesota – but they made it.

Every single one of the four girls in Franni’s family went to college, thanks to Pell Grants and other scholarships.  My brother-in-law, Neil, went into the Coast Guard, where he became an electrical engineer.

And my mother-in-law got herself a $300 GI loan to fix her roof, and used the money instead to go to the University of Maine.  She became a grade school teacher, teaching Title One kids – poor kids – and so her loan was forgiven.

My mother-in-law and every single one of those five kids became a productive member of society.  Conservatives like to say that people need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps – and that’s a great idea.  But first, you’ve got to have the boots.  And the government gave my wife’s family the boots.

That’s what progressives like me believe the government is there for.  To provide security for middle-class families like the one I grew up in, and opportunity for working poor families like the one Franni grew up in.

By the way, I stole that boots line from Tim Walz, our great new congressman from Southern Minnesota. Tim’s father died when he was a kid, and he and his brother and his mom made it because of Social Security.   

Last year I traveled all over the state of Minnesota on behalf of Tim and other Democrats: from Waseca and Wabasha up to Fergus Falls and Detroit Lakes, over to Bemidji and the Iron Range, from Duluth down to Albert Lea, I was in Hastings and all over the metro, up in St. Cloud a few times, eating a lot of beans and buns and burgers and maybe a few too many Dairy Queens along the way.  But most importantly, I talked to Minnesotans and listened. 

They told me that they’re sick of politics as usual—and they're sick of the usual politicians.

And I’ll tell you what else they told me.  It’s different now than it was for me and Franni.  When Franni’s sisters were using them to go to college, Pell Grants paid for 90% of a college education.  Today, they pay for 40%.  And President Bush, with the help of his Republican allies in Congress, have even tried to privatize Social Security.  You should have heard Franni when they tried to do that.

It’s different for middle-class families, too.  These families are being squeezed harder and harder every year.  Maybe you know what it's like to be one health crisis away from bankruptcy. Maybe you, or your parents or grandparents, can't afford prescriptions.  Maybe you have kids, and you’re worried about paying for their college.  Maybe someone you love is in Iraq, and you don’t know how long they’ll have to stay there, or what will happen when they come home.

Middle-class families today struggle with that feeling of insecurity—the sense that things can fall apart without notice, outside of your control.

Your government should have your back.  That should be our mission in Washington, the one FDR gave us during another challenging time: freedom from fear.

Americans have never backed away from challenges. And Minnesotans have always led the way. Our state has sent strong, progressive leaders to Washington—from Hubert Humphrey to Walter Mondale to Paul Wellstone, and now to Amy Klobuchar. Minnesota's public servants might not always look and sound like typical politicians, but they stand by their principles and lead by their values. 

That's the kind of leader I think we need more of these days, and that's the kind of Senator I'll be.

President Clinton used to say that there’s nothing wrong with America that can’t be fixed by what’s right with America, or, as I would add, by what’s right with Minnesota.  We can lead the fight against global warming and dependence on foreign oil by developing new sources of renewable energy—and create good Minnesota jobs in the process.  We can lead the nation in finding life-saving cures by harnessing the potential of stem-cell research.  We can lead the nation by sending someone to the Senate who’ll be a voice for a strong and responsible America, one that uses its relationship with our allies to create a better and more secure world for ourselves and for future generations.

My political hero is Paul Wellstone.  He used to say, “The future belongs to those who are passionate and work hard.” I may be a comedian by trade, but I’m passionate about the issues that matter to your family because they mattered to mine, too.  And I’m ready to work as hard as I can to help us build a better future together.

Thanks for listening, and I’ll see you on the trail.