Daily Reformer: Who will be the next Senate minority leader?

January 14, 2020 12:40 pm

Who is the next Senate Minority Leader?

Good morning and welcome to Daily Reformer!

So yeah, we started this thing called Minnesota Reformer, and some great people have joined us, and we have some strong reporting and commentary on our first day:

We heard a lot about the racial divide in Worthington last year and the ensuing struggle to pass school levies. Ricardo Lopez has a nice read on how they finally got it passed and what it means given the state’s diversifying student population.

Stunning piece of data from Max NesterakOf the 10 most in-demand jobs in Minnesota right now, only half pay the $15 an hour needed to meet the basic costs of living in the state. Expect coverage from Max about people we don’t hear from enough — those on the lower rungs of Minnesota’s economy.

–Senate Republicans said again Monday they’d run on the issue of urban crime. Data ace Rilyn Eischens looked at the actual numbers. You can decide for yourselves if it’s a cynical strategy with no basis in truth. It’s not my place to say.

I wrote a thing about who we are and what we’re all about.

And we’re honored that our first guest op-ed columnist is distinguished Minnesotan former Vice President Walter Mondale, who urges readers to take action to protect the Boundary Waters. 

Would you like to write a guest op-ed for us? Email me: [email protected]

Have you Reformers ever started a website? It’s really hard! I’m tired. But for you brilliant, generous Reformers I’ll keep going.

So: What’d I miss while I was away? Tell me: [email protected] or @jpcoolican on Twitter.

Ok, let’s get to it:

Who will be the Senate DFL leader in 28 days when the gavel drops on the legislative session? (Inside baseball? Sure, but that’s what you signed up for!)

The question is actually important: They may be in the minority, but given the narrow 35-32 spread and the coming November election, there’s a decent chance that the DFL minority leader will become majority leader.

I talked to a DFL source close to the situation Monday who speculated that the longer we go without knowing, the more likely that state Sen. Susan Kent has the votes. The thinking is that if current Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk had the votes, he would have called a caucus meeting and it would be a done deal. Instead, he’s stalling.

He cancelled a caucus meeting in December and said they could not get everyone together during the holiday hiatus. The Star Tribune’s Torey Van Oot reported on a Bakk email last week in which he told the caucus that he and Kent had a “productive” conversation, and that they agreed to allow “the members who have had recent surgery be given time to recover” before the vote.

(Knowing Bakk, he was in the recovery room with flowers and fresh bacon, i.e. bonding projects. Lest I be rude: Best wishes to whomever had surgery.)

Bakk has declined comment through all this and did so again Monday. I have not talked to Kent yet.

Would you bet against Bakk? I don’t think I would. Rep. Pat Garofalo, what say you?

A few more nuggets on the leader battle:

Read this from MPR: 

Sen. Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, threatened to leave the caucus, upset about a last-minute deal that reduced local government aid for Iron Range communities that receive taconite aid. Bakk said he hasn’t cut all ties with the caucus, but said he doesn’t plan to participate in caucus strategy meetings. He said Democrats should stop trying to appeal to suburban voters by focusing on education, and should try to pick up rural seats by talking about jobs. “I think the Democrats have lost a lot of their base in rural Minnesota because we have, I think, in recent times, gotten too far to the left,” said Bakk.

That’s … 2003. Not only is it a fun bit of history, but it’s a cautionary bit of history for the Kent faction. Bakk could abandon the caucus and take five rural members with him, forming their own mini caucus. They could have great leverage, which is Bakk’s favorite word, especially in a closely divided Senate. (The others are Eken, Simonson, Sparks, Frentz and Tomassoni. Bakk’s fellow Ranger, Tomassoni, also declined to comment.)

Redistricting is ever in the background: “Rural guys are extremely anxious about this reapportionment,” a DFL operative told me. Rural Minnesota is going to lose seats. It’s only a question of how many; and rural Dems are especially anxious given their heavy losses in the past decade. “You think they’re going to take down one of their own when they have this reapportionment coming?” the source asked incredulously. The Kent faction could also use this to help Bakk step away gracefully: Kent gets to be leader, but Bakk gets to draw the maps and be tax chair if they win the majority and the House DFL holds. (No sure thing, to be sure.)

–I’m told in the past it’s been secret ballot, and the ballots destroyed right after the vote. Is it easier to vote against Bakk with a secret ballot?

–Money: A pro-Bakk argument is that he can raise money and Kent can’t. This led to hot gossip last month among the lobbying corps that a significant DFL funder who is not a Bakk fan promised big money if Kent is chosen over Bakk. Do your best Captain Renault: I’m shocked, shocked! This storyline was thrown at me by not one but two lobbying sources. Weird, huh?

–Also some chatter among the lobbying corps that Kent’s not the real mastermind here, that there’s someone else pulling the strings. Or that Bakk has a deal with Kent, making her successor after 2021 and thereby thwarting some stronger challenger. I’m skeptical. Occam’s razor is usually best.

Too much too soon? Maybe, but I gotta give you your money’s worth.

My new favorite TV character is Pray Tell of “Pose,” which is a show about the 1980s New York City trans community. How about you? [email protected]

And my book of the moment is “These Truths,” Jill Lepore’s breezy one volume history of the United States. She’s written a great synthesis in at times gorgeous prose. On Columbus and the Taino:

Their god Yucahu had once foretold that “they would enjoy their dominion but for a brief time because a clothed people would come to their land who could overcome them and kill them” This had come to pass. There were about 3 million people on that island, land of mountains, when Columbus landed; fifty years later, there were only 500; everyone else had died, their songs unsung. 

That’s all for today. On more typical days I’ll give you a fuller rundown of what’s happening in Washington and Minnesota politics and policy. And I’ve got a ton of fun links from all that time I had on my hands the past couple months. And of course it will come very early in the morning. I was kinda busy this morning.

Forward this email to your friends and family and get them signed up, wouldya? Have a great day all! JPC

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J. Patrick Coolican
J. Patrick Coolican

J. Patrick Coolican is Editor-in-Chief of Minnesota Reformer. Previously, he was a Capitol reporter for the Minneapolis Star Tribune for five years, after a Knight-Wallace Fellowship at the University of Michigan and time at the Las Vegas Sun, Seattle Times and a few other stops along the way. He lives in St. Paul with his wife and two young children