Two longtime Democratic-Farmer-Labor Iron Range legislators are forming their own new independent caucus.
Sens. Tom Bakk of Cook and David Tomassoni of Chisholm say they're forming the Minnesota Senate Independent Caucus to help bridge the partisan political divide.
“The Iron Range built the steel which has built bridges,” Tomassoni said Wednesday. “We're basically trying to do something to bridge the huge partisan divide in politics.”
The announcement that two of the state's most senior DFL politicians is huge.
It comes after a long period of time when Iron Range DFLers have been at odds with portions of their party over mining projects and other northeastern Minnesota economic issues.
It also comes after a Nov. 3 general election when the Republican party continued to make inroads into the traditionally Democratic Iron Range region.
But Bakk and Tomassoni say both parties are to blame.
“People are going to wonder why I'm doing this – and to be honest, there are several reasons,” Bakk said in a statement. “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.”
Bakk said he and Tomassoni have worked across party lines their entire careers.
"David and I have always voted our districts,” Bakk said. “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 economic lifeline of mining and wood products. Our natural resource-based economy is critical to our region of the state.”
Tomassoni was named Senate president last week in a bipartisan vote.
Republicans hold the majority in the Minnesota Senate It's the first time in Minnesota history that a minority party member has bee elected Senate president.
“The frustration we have is with both parties,” Tomassoni said. “It's unacceptable. People need to find a way to work together. At some point in time we need to start working with everybody.”
Bakk was first elected to the Minnesota House in 1994 and the Senate in 2002. He represents Senate District 3, a huge geographical area of northeastern Minnesota.
Tomassoni was first elected to the Minnesota House in 1992 and the Senate in 2000. Tomassoni represents Senate District 6, which spans the Iron Range.
Tomassoni says formation of the new caucus could lead to chairmanships for he and Bakk.
“People in the last election made it pretty clear that they wanted us to work together,” Tomassoni said. “For me, that means a path forward to solving our economic and pandemic crisis in a bipartisan fashion.”
In a prepared statement released Wednesday afternoon, Republican Party of Minnesota Chairwoman Jennifer Carnahan said "The DFL has abandoned Greater Minnesota and we applaud Senators Bakk and Tomassoni for doing to the same to the DFL. Time and time again we've seen that the Minnesota Democrats dismiss and denigrate the people who live outside of the metro and now they are paying the price.
"Whether it's their embrace of the defund the police movement or their failure to condemn rioters we've seen that the DFL is a metro-centric party that serves the interests of the their radical Leftist base."