The Senate DFL caucus is nearing what could be a bruising leadership battle — and potentially its first woman leader.
State Sen. Susan Kent, DFL-Woodbury, is challenging Minority Leader Tom Bakk of Cook, in a leadership election that will take place Feb. 1, according to an email Kent sent to the caucus and obtained by the Minnesota Reformer. Kent’s leadership challenge was first reported in December, but the caucus has not met or voted since.
“To be transparent and give all members an opportunity to prepare, I will run for the position of minority leader and ask for a caucus vote at that meeting,” Kent wrote in the email. “From past experience, I have great faith in us and our ability to work through challenging questions and emerge unified. And I assure you I’m committed to that outcome.”
The email was first reported on Twitter by Star Tribune reporter Patrick Condon.
The leadership battle comes just days before the beginning of the legislative session. The DFL is also furiously working to win the two state Senate seats they need to win back control of the upper chamber after Republicans took the majority in 2016.
A DFL state senator, who was granted anonymity to speak freely about an internal caucus matter, said some senators want a “cultural shift” after nearly a decade of Bakk’s leadership. Bakk is an Iron Range stalwart who has sometimes been at odds with his caucus on issues like copper-nickel mining.
Bakk is known for his mastery of the legislative process and has survived past leadership challenges, most notably in 2015 in a pre-dawn caucus meeting.
Kent, 56, was first elected in 2012, and represents a suburban, swing district. She won her most recent re-election by just 399 votes.
Kent supporters say her marketing expertise will be crucial as the Senate DFL hopes to reclaim its majority. “She’s urban and suburban, has won tough races in a swing district and, she’s smart as hell and highly collaborative,” the state senator said.
A spokeswoman for Bakk said he does not comment on internal caucus conversations.