MOORHEAD, Minn. — Ego and self-interest have torn open a crack in the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party. Republicans are celebrating, and rightly so.
Tom Bakk and David Tomassoni, both longtime state senators from the Iron Range, announced last week they were splitting from the DFL to form their own independent caucus. With the senate previously split only 34-33 in favor of Republicans, Bakk's and Tomassoni's desertion leaves Democrats at a 34-31 disadvantage with those two independent votes.
This is a huge win for Republicans and Majority Leader Paul Gazelka. He no longer has to thread the needle on legislation, particularly concerning the budget.
The forming of a two-person caucus by two lifelong DFLers is among the most selfish and narcissistic political maneuvers in recent Minnesota history, if based only on the timing.
Bakk and Tomassoni campaigned and were elected as Democrats. They used the power and infrastructure of the party to campaign and raise money. Voters in their districts elected them based on the fact they were Democrats. Many would not have voted for them if they ran as independents.
For Bakk and Tomassoni to pull the rug out from under their constituents and the DFL two weeks after the election was dishonest and self-serving. Slimy, you might say.
It also puts other rural DFLers in an even tighter spot as an increasingly endangered species. Kent Eken, from the northwest part of the state, is the lone DFLer left from a wholly rural district.
Eken has no plans to join Bakk and Tomassoni.
"I am not leaving the DFL caucus. I feel I have more influence in a caucus of 31 than I would in a caucus of three. I also feel it is especially important that there be strong voices from Greater Minnesota within the DFL caucus," Eken said.
Bakk's ego was already stung when the DFL caucus voted him out of a leadership position last year in favor of Twin Cities suburban lawmaker Susan Kent. The DFL's play was to take the senate majority by focusing on the party's growing strength in the suburbs. With Republicans holding their senate majority and gaining in the state House of Representatives, Bakk's and Tomassoni's defection was likely their revenge.
This is a desperate way for Bakk to maintain some sort of power and leverage in St. Paul.
Republicans are joyous, as they should be. They are gaining strength in rural Minnesota as the DFL splinters into establishment and progressive camps, with one side preaching moderation and the other trying to "defund the police."
Certainly the leftward and Twin Cities-centric lurch of the DFL frustrated Bakk and Tomassoni, particularly when it came to their beloved topic of mining on the Range. It's a huge issue for them and their constituents. But differences within political parties are not new. The phrase "big tent" has been a cliche for decades.
Instead of working to close the gap in the DFL, Bakk and Tomassoni bailed. Those who voted for them are the ones hurt most, which is inexcusable.
Readers can reach Forum News Service columnist Mike McFeely at firstname.lastname@example.org or (701) 451-5655