Bakk bolts from DFL caucus

Former Senate Leader joins fellow Ranger, forms independent alliance

by Tom Coombe
When 2020 began, State Sen. Tom Bakk led the DFL caucus.
As the year comes to a close, Bakk is no longer part of it and has joined another Iron Range lawmaker in a two-person independent alliance that could help tilt the balance of power in St. Paul.
Bakk, who has represented the Ely area in St Paul for more than 25 years, joined longtime Chisholm legislator and State Sen. David Tomassoni in forming a new Minnesota Senate Independent Caucus.
In a statement released Wednesday, they said the move presents an opportunity to chair committees and makes sense to better serve their districts within the legislative framework.
“People are going to wonder why I’m doing this – and to be honest, there are several reasons. I’m very disappointed by the extreme partisanship going on nationally and right here in Minnesota,” said Bakk. “Both political parties are to blame. The constant negative and sharp rhetoric is undermining voters’ confidence in our public institutions. It doesn’t have to stay this way.”
Before the announcement, Republicans held a slim 34-33 majority in the Senate.
While Bakk and Tomassoni have formed their own caucus, reports emerged that both would be granted committee chair opportunities by the Republicans.
“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. The Iron Range has provided the ore that has forged the steel that has made the bridges of America. If we expect to actually bridge the partisan divide, someone must take a proactive step to build such a bridge. I consider this to be a positive approach in an attempt to move away from the negative and partisan rhetoric while continuing to fully support our way of life on the Iron Range.”
The decision further fractures a relationship between the lawmakers and Senate Democrats.
Earlier this year, Bakk was ousted from his position as majority leader, and both Bakk and Tomassoni have differed from the party on issues related to mining.
The Iron Range, meanwhile, has shifted politically.
Once a reliable DFL stronghold, the area has tilted toward Republicans in recent elections, and both Bakk and Tomassoni had close races in November.
Bakk got 55 percent of the vote against his Republican challenger, while it was an even closer margin for State Rep. Rob Ecklund (D-Int. Falls), who won by four percentage points over Republican challenger Thomas Manninen.
“People in the last election made it pretty clear that they wanted us to work together,” said Tomassoni. “For me that means a path forward to solving our economic and pandemic crisis in a bipartisan fashion.”
Bakk said just days after the election that he wasn’t surprised by the results and that Democrats face a more difficult environment in rural Minnesota.
“Frankly the DFL party keeps drifting further and further to the left,” Bakk said earlier this month. “The anti-mining resolution by the party,and (Governor) Walz trying to stop Line 3. I don’t blame people for being discouraged.”
Bakk, who hails from Cook, said he and Tomassoni have long worked across party lines and have instead voted in the best interests of their respective districts.
“Forming this new caucus is just a natural progression of aligning more with moderate than the far right or left,” said Bakk. “Additionally, we will not stray from the values of Northern Minnesota and what our people are most passionate about -- our economy and jobs that support our families and our economic lifeline of mining and wood products. Our natural resource-based economy is critical to our region of the state.”
Last week, Tomassoni was voted to serve as President of the Senate on a bipartisan vote of both Democrats and Republicans. This is the first time in Minnesota history that there is a President elected from a minority party.