Longtime Minnesota senators quit DFL caucus to form Independent Caucus

Tom Hauser & Tracy Maher
Updated: November 18, 2020 05:29 PM
Created: November 18, 2020 07:54 AM

In a startling political development, two longtime Minnesota DFL senators announced Wednesday they are leaving the Minnesota Senate DFL Caucus to form a new "Independent Caucus."

Sen. Tom Bakk of Cook, a senator since 2003 and former DFL candidate for governor and former DFL Senate Majority leader, and Sen. Dave Tomassoni of Chisholm, a senator since 2001, say their move is designed to become more bipartisan and moderate.

"People are going to wonder why I'm doing this – and to be honest, there are several reasons," Bakk said in a news release. "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. It doesn't have to stay this way." 

"We have worked across party lines our entire careers," Bakk went on to state. "David and I have always voted our districts. We have always represented our districts as bipartisan and moderate members of the legislature. Forming this new caucus is just a natural progression of aligning more with moderate than the far right or left. 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."

Bakk served as Senate minority leader from 2011 until 2013 after Republicans won control of the Senate in 2010. He was elected majority leader after Democrats won back the chamber in the 2012 election. He served as majority leader from 2013 to 2015 until Republicans won back the Senate in 2016. In February of 2020, Sen. Susan Kent of Woodbury challenged Bakk as minority leader and ousted him after a long and contentious caucus meeting.

In a historic move last week, Sen. Tomassoni was elected Senate president as a Democrat in a Republican-controlled chamber, marking the first time in state history a member of a minority party was elected Senate president. The move was largely viewed as a defense against Sen. Amy Klobuchar taking a post in a Biden administration. That would have elevated a Republican Senate president automatically to lieutenant governor if Gov. Tim Walz appointed current Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan to the U.S. Senate. Such a move would have jeopardized the Republican's narrow 34-33 majority.

Now it appears there was much more to that move because both Bakk and Tomassoni will get committee chairmanships. Those positions can only be appointed by Republican Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka.

In an update Wednesday morning, Gazelka stated, "Being a graduate of high school in Virginia, MN, I have a natural connection to the Range. I've worked across the aisle with Senators Bakk and Tomassoni for 10 years.  I welcome their announcement and the stronger alignment we will have as a result. We share the same vision of a prosperous Iron Range and will continue to work with them to fight for jobs on the Range."

"Serving as chair of a Senate committee will allow me to better serve my communities and deliver results for my district," Tomassoni said. "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." 

Tomassoni added, "People in the last election made it pretty clear that they wanted us to work together. For me that means a path forward to solving our economic and pandemic crisis in a bipartisan fashion."

The move by the two Iron Range lawmakers will create a major shift in the Senate balance of power. The Republican majority will now go from 34 Republicans and 33 Democrats to 34 Republicans and 31 Democrats along with two independents. However, with both former DFL lawmakers getting committee chairmanships it effectively means they will likely caucus mostly with Republicans.

Bakk and Tomassoni say voting on behalf of the interests of their districts is more important than voting along party lines.

"Forming this new caucus is just a natural progression of aligning more with moderate than the far right or left," Bakk said. "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." 

Tomassoni echoed Bakk's comments.

"People in the last election made it pretty clear that they wanted us to work together, he said. "For me that means a path forward to solving our economic and pandemic crisis in a bipartisan fashion."

In response to the news, Senate DFL Leader Susan Kent stated, "The Senate DFL caucus includes a broad spectrum of views, especially as the only Senate caucus with members from urban, suburban, and greater Minnesota communities, but it does not stretch as far as those who wish to function outside of our values as a caucus. The Senate DFL is focused on working hard to get this pandemic under control, get Minnesotans back to work and school safely, and eradicate our state's horrific racial disparities. We appreciate their service and look forward to working on behalf of all Minnesotans with all of our colleagues in the future." 

We will continue following developments on this story throughout the day on KSTP.com and on 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS.


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