Tom Bakk has a challenger for his leadership status. And I say it is about time.
Bakk has led the Senate Democrats since 2011, through both majority and minority status. His tenure has not been without controversy. In particular, the end of the 2015 session comes to mind when Bakk and Daudt went into a closed door deal which upset many fellow Senators. In that year, Bakk agreed to a bill exempting copper and nickel mines on the Iron Range from the state’s solid waste regulations. Bakk, following a recurring pattern for his caucus leadership, put his own district’s interest above the interest of his fellow Senate Democrats.
I do not begrudge Bakk representing his district. But to come out of closed door negotiation with that mining deal was cringe worthy.
In addition, there was a last minute bonding bill negotiated which gave no legislator time to read, let alone decide on a vote.
Now there is no question that a lot of these problems have a Republican source in Kurt Daudt, but Bakk often stymied the voices of the rest of his caucus in pursuit of deals that never seemed to follow caucus priorities.
The current challenge comes from Senator Susan Kent, a suburban Democrat from Woodbury. To me, it seems the new DFL source of strength is in those suburbs and it would only follow that leadership should flow through that growing base of support.
Kent has some significant differences from Bakk. She is supportive of gun safety regulations while Bakk has been a supporter of 2nd Amendment groups.
She has also been a leader in voting access legislation. And she has held a leadership position with the DFL Senate team since 2017 as an assistant minority leader. She has been a leader in education. She has been able to work with the business community, while maintaining very high ratings with the labor community.
Bakk comes from the Iron Range and it was hoped that he could bridge the divide in the DFL between mining and the environment. But he has always sided with mining corporations while making little attempt to search for compromise.
That divide has gotten worse under Bakk’s leadership and the time has definitely come for a change. We need some serious conversations to bridge this gap and we need to have it with leaders willing to look for compromise or to accept a position that benefits the state as a whole and not narrow interest groups – one way or another.
I am convinced that Bakk can no longer do that. His representation of an Iron Range district is no vice. But his positions are not acceptable as a caucus leader. And he has shown an alarming tendency for back room deals that compromise DFL principles.
Time to acknowledge the need for a leaderhip change. I hope it is Susan Kent.