2 longtime Minnesota DFL senators leaving DFL to form Independent caucus

Two longtime Minnesota DFL senators announced Wednesday they are leaving the Minnesota Senate DFL caucus to form a new Independent caucus. 

In a joint news release, Sen. Tom Bakk of Cook, a senator since 2003, and Sen. David Tomassoni of Chisholm, a senator since 2001, said the move is a “natural progression” towards becoming more bipartisan and moderate. 

“People are going to wonder why I’m doing this – and to be honest, there are several reasons," Bakk said. "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.”

“My constituents elected me to serve them to the best of my abilities,” Tomassoni said. “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.”

Last week, the Minnesota Senate voted overwhelmingly to elect Tomassoni as Senate president, becoming the first member of the minority party to hold that role. The historic move was a strategic one, as the GOP looked to avoid a trickle-down scenario if U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar is asked to join President-elect Joe Biden's cabinet.

If Klobuchar joins Biden's cabinet, then Gov. Tim Walz would be able to appoint her replacement. If Walz chooses Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan to take her seat, that would invoke a constitutional provision that requires the Minnesota senate president to become the new lieutenant governor.

The senators’ statement makes it clear they are anticipating being named chairs of legislative committees. 

In a statement Wednesday morning, Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka said, “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."

Following the results of the Nov. 3 election, the GOP held a narrow one-seat majority in the Senate. Wednesday’s announcement makes that margin 34-31-2.