The Potluck

Sen. Tom Bakk announces retirement from Senate, after nearly 30 years as influential lawmaker

By: - March 17, 2022 9:35 am

Minnesota State Sen. Tom Bakk, I-Cook, poses for a portrait in his office at the Minnesota State Capitol Wednesday, February 3, 2021. Photo by Nicole Neri/Minnesota Reformer

Sen. Tom Bakk, the Democratic senator turned Independent from Cook, is retiring from state politics, nearly 30 years after he was first elected to the Legislature. 

One of the staunchest supporters of the Iron Range, its mining and its idiosyncratic culture, Bakk, 67, developed a reputation for being a master of the inside game, always finding a way to put himself at the center of Minnesota state politics and government.

“Representing the people of the Arrowhead region has been one of the greatest rewards of my life, made possible by the support and patience of my family,” Bakk said in a statement. “My heartfelt thanks to my constituents for entrusting me to be their voice at the Capitol for so many years. I have always tried to do my best for the people I’ve served even if it was not always easy or popular with my own political party.” 

When the Senate DFL failed to reclaim a majority in the November 2020 election, Bakk, a former DFL caucus leader, jumped ship and announced he was forming his own independent caucus with fellow Iron Ranger state Sen. David Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm, who is also retiring after being diagnosed with ALS last summer.  

The two Iron Range lawmakers’ abrupt move was billed as an effort to effectively advocate for their constituents. Bakk and Tomassoni were not padding then-GOP Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka’s narrow 34-33 majority out of charity. In exchange for leaving the DFL caucus, they became committee chairs.

Bakk’s newly redrawn district is still expected to remain competitive. Former President Donald Trump won the district by two points in 2016, and was roughly tied with Biden in 2020. Gov. Tim Walz won the district by double digits in 2018.

Bakk is a relic of a previous legislative era: Unlike younger legislators, he is not much for the modern trappings of social media. His Twitter account, @tombakk, features zero tweets and no profile picture. 

“There is still a lot more to be done but it is time for me to pass the torch,” Bakk said. “I’m certain there are new inspiring leaders waiting in the wings. For 28 years it has been my time to serve but now it is finally my time to retire.”  


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