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How Senate DFLers are becoming like Republicans

Sen. Dave Thompson
State Sen. Dave Thompson

Republican state Sen. Dave Thompson had been noticing it throughout the Legislative session: a growing fissure between urban and Greater Minnesota legislators in the Senate DFL caucus.

The urban-rural, moderate-conservative rift is old hat for Republicans, but this year it has beset Senate DFLers.

“One of the early signs that some of the urban core Democrats were not getting their way was the judiciary bill,” Thompson said.  

He was referring to public safety legislation, signed by Gov. Dayton, that legalized the use of gun silencers, referred to in the bill as “suppressors.”

“It demonstrated that the person running the caucus [Tom Bakk] is the more traditional conservative Democrat,” Thompson said.

But now, majority leader Bakk is facing something of a revolt from those urban Democrats, whose votes are needed to pass major budget bills in a special legislative session. Reports indicate that key DFlers such as John Marty, Sandy Pappas, and Scott Dibble plan on voting against the environment bill because of objections to policy changes, including elimination of the Citizens Board of the Pollution Control Agency.

The bill has even provoked an online petition asking Bakk to resign his leadership post

DFL Sen. Terri Bonoff, chair of the senate’s Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee, finds the disgruntlement with Bakk puzzling. As majority leader, she says, Bakk is doing his job finding consensus. “He does a very good job of accommodating views and opinions,” she said. “I think he puts the interests of Minnesota first.”

Bonoff, by the way, represents Minnetonka, and is not a natural ally for Bakk. “You have to remember, he did not want me to be an assistant leader,” she said.

But Bonoff, like Bakk, is a pragmatist. She often refers to herself as a “caucus of one,” and has advocated a spectrum of policy and spending reforms that often run contrary to DFL special interest groups.  

Sen Terri BonoffState Sen. Terri Bonoff

The standoff between Bakk and urban DFLers, she believes, stems from a refusal by some in the party to accept that Democrats no longer control all three branches of government.

“In my opinion, when you have divided government you must compromise to the middle,” she said. “When we had two years of Democrats in control, policies leaned far left. They didn’t have the reality check it takes to come to an agreement.”

Bakk stayed in the background during the negotiations over a special session. Bonoff said the bills in contention were already a negotiated product between Senate Republicans and Democrats. “Why negotiate against bills we all passed?” she asked.

Bakk may stay in the background on Friday. He’s already told reporters that he was not going to “twist arms” to get votes.

And no matter how much dissension he faces in his caucus, its unlikely that Bakk faces any serious threat to his leadership position.

Comments (13)

  1. Submitted by Jim Million on 06/12/2015 - 11:42 am.

    Independent Democrats?

    Independent Republicans, known parenthetically as (IR), attempted to move us back toward the middle. Should some DFLers break away as Independent Democrats, out-state Minnesota might be better served. Of course, they would be know as (ID), a truly ironic label. And, DFL management likely would just strengthen the walls of Fort MSP.

    Both Republicans and Democrats speak earnestly of rebuilding the middle class…just not within their parties.

  2. Submitted by Bill Kahn on 06/12/2015 - 11:45 am.

    It is certain that Tom Bakk is a nice man in the spirit of Minnesota niceness, but he is useless as a leader. Saying he is doing his job or that there is no threat to his current role, is not rational.

  3. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 06/12/2015 - 11:48 am.

    “Why negotiate against bills we all passed”? Surely Sen. Bonoff is disingenuous here, in failing to recall that many DFLers were forced to vote for late-night bills they hadn’t read and about which Senate leadership withheld important information. So, no, they didn’t “all [pass]” those bills, and I encourage them all to vote they way they think best, and forget Bonoff and Bakk on any issue of importance.

  4. Submitted by Joel Stegner on 06/12/2015 - 12:07 pm.

    Democrats are not becoming more like Republicans

    Democrats, being an inclusive party, have always begged to differ with each other. We have always had liberals, moderates and conservatives. When we controlled both houses and the governor position, differences were worked out more privately. With a Republican House, it is more public. The urban, suburban, rural split had always existed in both parties, around regional interests. Suburban Republicans are more corporate oriented and socially moderate. Rural Republicans more for the small guy and small business, and against everything for the Cities. Rural and urban folks now barely understand each other, so the sense of the greater good of Minnesota is lost on most people – both parties. Bridging the explains why this sessions been so difficult.

  5. Submitted by joe smith on 06/12/2015 - 12:17 pm.

    So a divided Govt spurs compromise and everyone doesn’t get what they want. That is called the will of the people. The one size fits all I hear steady on this blog is not what people voted for. They voted to have multiple voices raising different concerns, that is healthy. That is not GOP or DFL that is America.

  6. Submitted by Nathaniel Finch on 06/12/2015 - 01:40 pm.

    moderate-conservative republicans

    “The urban-rural, moderate-conservative rift is old hat for Republicans…”

    This assumes that there are any moderate republicans left. I haven’t seen any evidence of that in quite a long while.

  7. Submitted by Robert Gauthier on 06/12/2015 - 02:41 pm.

    Bakk is voting with his buddy

    Last fall, Bakk and Daudt went to Canada on a junket funded by mining, republican interests. They fished drank and made buddy/buddy. This trip was “off the books” and the governor was NOT invited. They bonded there and acted in concert against the governor. The trouble is the metro Dems are bullied into silence by the Rangers. The Rangers want their money, so they can stay rural, ignorant and on state welfare. They don’t want to change or move, so the whole state suffers. Daudt exploited this. Bakk enabled it. They ganged up the governor.

    Look at this budget. big cuts in a time of surplus, cutting education, the poor, the disabled and government regulation. Who has benefitted? The real “citizens” that Bakk and Daudt care about, big business corporations only. Greed and envy, both sins and both driving the debate. And vindictiveness. They hate the metro for its vibrancy and strong economy. They want metro money and want the Metro to pay for their success so they do not have to change. Socialize all risk, privatize all profits- in mining and farming. No money for poor housing in the cities but millions for parking spaces and office buildings for Bakk and his cronies.

    Back seems to have a rebellion on his hands right now, as he betrayed his caucus and his governor. And wants to run for governor next term. He is running his own agenda, not the party or the state. And he does not represent the DFL of the metro.

    • Submitted by joe smith on 06/12/2015 - 07:41 pm.

      How do you call a 540M dollar increase in education over the next 2 yrs a cut?

    • Submitted by Pavel Yankovic on 06/12/2015 - 10:00 pm.

      Mr. Gauthier,…

      how do you know about this trip? And what does this say about our elected officials who call themselves, “public servants” accepting favors like this when a doctor cannot accept even a pen from a drug company.

  8. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 06/12/2015 - 06:35 pm.


    “…’In my opinion, when you have divided government you must compromise to the middle,’ she said. ‘When we had three years of Democrats in control, policies leaned far left. They didn’t have the reality check it takes to come to an agreement.’”

    I didn’t notice the legislature leaning “far left” when the DFL controlled both houses, and Mr. Dayton is as much a pro-business, moderate Democrat as most people are likely to see, and all that would really be required for him to fit the model of the classic moderate Republican would be for him to change the party label after his name. In olden times, it was easily, and frequently, possible to be a business-friendly, debt-avoiding Republican who thought social issues ought to be left to the public to decide. They not only mouthed rhetoric about “small government,” they genuinely believed in it. That’s no longer the case.

    Ms. Bonoff was apparently not paying attention during the Pawlenty years, or is simply naive. Compromise has not been a significant part of the GOP vocabulary for quite some time, which is why the gay marriage issue ended up on the ballot. True believers aren’t willing to compromise, and sadly, many a recent Republican is a true believer.

    FInally, while it may be desirable and efficacious to “meet in the middle,” I don’t know that doing so is always a necessity. Most of the time, some degree of compromise is necessary, and without it, government grinds to a halt, but we have recent evidence in Minnesota that shutting down the state government is regarded by some of those true believers as a *good* thing rather than a poor reflection on the people responsible for the shutdown.

  9. Submitted by Tom Lynch on 06/13/2015 - 11:12 am.

    The ” far left” comment is stupid

    But coming from a corporate Democrat like Bonoff it’s not surprising. If she thinks the laws passed when the Dems had both Houses is “far left”, she’s more than naive. It probably did upset her and the other fat cats in Minnetonka that their taxes went up(to not even where they were pre-Ventura), but that’s only “far left” to a hard core right-winger.

    • Submitted by Henk Tobias on 06/15/2015 - 12:41 pm.


      Raising taxes to balance the budget, something the majority of Minnesotans agreed with, is considered far left, but allowing Silencers on guns, something very few Minnesotans agree with, is considered moderate pragmatic horse trading?

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