REGIONAL— After his closest election contest in years as a DFL member of the Minnesota Legislature, state Senator Tom Bakk, of Cook, has announced this week that he is forming an Independent …
REGIONAL— After his closest election contest in years as a DFL member of the Minnesota Legislature, state Senator Tom Bakk, of Cook, has announced this week that he is forming an Independent Caucus along with fellow Iron Ranger, state Senator,David Tomassoni.
The announcement marks a surprising development that is likely to strengthen the two northern Minnesota lawmakers’ hands in the closely-divided Senate. Both Bakk and Tomassoni say they expect to be named to committee chairs, a possibility that suggests some coordination with Senate Republican leaders. Bakk has maintained a generally cordial relationship over the years with Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R- East Gull Lake, despite representing different parties.
Gazelka welcomed the announcement and the “stronger alignment” that he expects with the two longtime lawmakers. “We share the same vision of a prosperous Iron Range and will continue to work with them to fight for jobs on the Range,” he said, while stopping short of committing to any chairmanships for either legislator.
Republicans had narrowly controlled the body, 34-33, in the wake of the Nov. 3 election, but that margin will now be greater after the loss of two experienced senators from the DFL caucus.
Bakk had served as both majority and minority leader in the Senate over the past decade but was ousted from his leadership position by his caucus earlier this year in favor of Senator Susan Kent, who represents the Twin Cities suburbs of Woodbury and Maplewood. That move was widely viewed as indicative of the loss of political clout for the Iron Range in the increasingly metro-dominated DFL.
“People are going to wonder why I’m doing this— and to be honest, there are several reasons,” said Bakk in a statement issued Wednesday morning. “I’m very disappointed by the extreme partisanship going on nationally and right here in Minnesota. Both political parties are to blame. The constant negative and sharp rhetoric is undermining voters’ confidence in our public institutions.”
Tomassoni, of Chisholm, said the move allows him to do his job more effectively. “Serving as chair of a Senate committee will allow me to better serve my communities and deliver results for my district,” said Tomassoni. “My constituents elected me to serve them to the best of my abilities.”
Tomassoni was elected President of the Senate last week, in a strategic move by Republicans to maintain their control of the body should Gov. Walz appoint Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan to another position. Under the state’s constitution, the Senate president would assume that position.
The two Iron Range DFLers have long differed at times with the rest of their caucus, particularly over mining issues and other environmental concerns. During an interview shortly after the Nov. 3 election, Bakk called the DFL Central Committee’s narrow decision to call for a moratorium on copper-nickel mining in the state, a mistake. He has also expressed frustration with the Walz administration’s occasionally mixed message on the Line 3 pipeline, a project with strong backing from northern Minnesota labor unions which has faced equally vehement opposition from native tribes, environmentalists, and residents along the proposed route.
As of presstime, DFL leaders in the Senate offered no comment on the announcement from Bakk and Tomassoni, which reduces their Senate caucus to 31 members.