In another bad sign for the Democrats and the progressive caucus led by Ilhan Omar, two senior Minnesota Democratic state senators just up and quit the party yesterday.
State Sens. Tom Bakk and Dave Tomassoni both said they would leave the Democratic Party and form a new independent caucus within the state Senate.
In a statement Wednesday, the two said their goal was to create a more bipartisan and moderate atmosphere.
“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,” Bakk said in a statement.
“It doesn’t have to stay this way,” he added.
From The Hill:
Bakk’s exit is especially surprising because he is a former leader of the Senate DFL caucus. Bakk won election as minority leader in 2011, then served as majority leader until Republicans reclaimed control of the state Senate in 2017.
Their exits illustrate a long-moving evolution in Minnesota politics, as Democrats lose ground in the Iron Range, for generations an ancestral Democratic bastion of union members working the mines, and gain ground in formerly Republican suburbs around the Twin Cities area.
In 2018, Democrats picked up two Republican-held U.S. House seats in the Twin Cities suburbs, while Republicans captured two Democratic seats, one in the Iron Range and one in southern, more rural Minnesota. In 2020, Republicans added another prize when they finally ousted Rep. Collin Peterson (D) in a heavily agricultural district that borders the Dakotas.
Both Bakk and Tomassoni represent districts in the Iron Range. Democratic sources said their departure may have been foretold when Bakk lost a challenge for his leadership role to state Sen. Susan Kent earlier this year. Kent represents Woodbury, a suburb of St. Paul.
In a statement, state Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka (R) welcomed the two former Democrats.
“There is usually more that brings us together than drives us apart and I know we will find ways to advance issues important to Minnesotans,” Gazelka said. Gazelka told KSTP reporter Tom Hauser that the two senators would be appointed to chair prominent committees.
Kent, the Democratic minority leader, said her party appreciated Bakk’s and Tomassoni’s service.
“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,” she said in a statement. “[B]ut it does not stretch as far as those who wish to function outside of our values as a caucus.”