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Gov. Mark Dayton
Office of the Governor
Gov. Mark Dayton

Et tu, Tom Bakk?

Feelings of betrayal and distrust aren’t uncommon in politics, though they usually stem from rifts with political and ideological rivals. But in a hastily scheduled press conference late Thursday, a stunned and visibly upset DFL Gov. Mark Dayton took to his bully pulpit to publicly broadcast that the second most powerful Democrat in state government, a putative ally, had “stabbed me in the back.”

Dayton held little back in his dismantling of Bakk, the Senate DFL Majority leader, who earlier that afternoon led his caucus in passing a proposal to suspend pay raises approved by Dayton for the top members of his administration. Dayton said he was “blindsided” by the move from a member of his own party and he didn’t know if he could ever trust him again.

“I’m very disappointed because I thought my relationship with Senator Bakk has always been positive and professional,” Dayton said in an unusually frank briefing. “I can’t trust him, can’t believe what he says to me, and that he connives behind my back.”

Bakk didn’t have an immediate comment following Dayton’s news conference.  

Republicans still need to act

The pay raises have been an issue for nearly two weeks, when Dayton first said he intended to take advantage of a 2013 law change to give about two dozen commissioners raises for a total cost of about $800,000. But it was Republicans who control the state House who were making the noise, engaging in a back-and-forth letter exchange with Dayton all week to try and get him to publicly testify in favor of the pay hikes for his cabinet. 

Those commissioners already earned six figures, but Dayton said the raises would help recruit and retain talented state employees, who often leave for better-paying jobs in the private sector.

In an effort to put an end to the “sideshow,” Dayton said Thursday morning that he could live with a House GOP proposal that would cut money from the budgets of the departments of human services, health and natural resources to make up for at least some of the salary hikes.

House members have yet to vote on their version of the pay-raise proposal, but the Senate vote changed the dynamics, instead proposing to suspend the increases until this summer to allow legislators to spend the session talking over the hikes in committee. That’s the last thing Dayton said he wants to see, especially with other big issues on lawmakers’ plate this year (a $40 billion budget, a transportation plan, etc.).

Republicans haven’t said if they will vote for the Senate version now.

Before Thursday, Bakk said the wage hikes were probably necessary, but he thought they were set too high. “I am pleased the governor recognizes state salaries should be more proportionate to the private sector pay scale,” Bakk said in a statement Wednesday night. “I have reservations about the size of the commissioners’ salary increases. I share the concern to retain and recruit exceptional talent for our state workforce, and while these increases may be warranted, I would prefer an incremental and measured implementation.”

Still, Dayton said he had no idea the vote was coming and noted that he and Bakk shared a terse phone call after the vote.

‘I don’t trust his word’

The rift has wide ranging implications for the rest of the 2015 session. Dayton now says he can trust Republican House Speaker Kurt Daudt more than he can trust Bakk, and he’d likely not meet with the Senate majority leader again without someone else in the room. “I’m not going to meet with Sen. Bakk anymore without others present because I don’t trust his word,” Dayton said.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk
MinnPost file photo by James Nord
Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk

Dayton met with a handful of state legislators Thursday after the vote to ask what happened, but Bakk wasn’t explicitly invited and didn’t show. Dayton said some of those senators thought he had agreed to the amendment. It passed on a 63-2, veto-proof vote.

The governor plans to veto the proposal if it gets to his desk with the Senate amendment attached, even though the measure was part of an emergency spending bill that provides needed money for the state’s Ebola response team, the security hospital in St. Peter and the Minnesota Zoo.

It’s not the first public spat between Dayton and Bakk. Last year the governor held a press conference to accuse Bakk of holding a time-sensitive tax bill hostage in order to pass a proposal to construct a new office building for senators. The issue went on to be a major campaign issue for Republicans last fall, when they swept House races in rural Minnesota and won back the lower chamber. Many Democrats fear the pay raise issue will turn into the same political ammo, especially if the conversation continues on closer to the 2016 election.

Dayton is not on the ballot again, but Bakk and the entire Senate DFL caucus will be.

But this was different than the office building debacle: Dayton said his trust has been permanently shaken in the Senate majority leader. He added: “Now I know how Obama feels.”

“I’m confronted with two hostile bodies of the Legislature, one with a leader I believe I can trust [Daudt] and one I know I can’t trust,” Dayton said. “I certainly learned a brutal lesson today.”

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Comments (22)

  1. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 02/13/2015 - 09:42 am.


    I do suburban politics, on a very humble grass roots level. But let’s just say, I have spent a lot more time with legislators than you. One of the things that aggravates me, one of the things that I fear is politicians who, for whatever reason, aren’t responsive to electoral pressures in general, and to pressures in the suburbs in particular. On the one hand we have got guys like Tom Bakk, who come from the safest of districts, and who can say or do anything they want. In Bakk’s case, that’s one reason why he can be in a leadership position, because leadership is a liability for legislators who come from closely divided districts. But Bakk is an example of the downside of that because he seems to have only a limited understanding of the fact that as a leader his responsibilities are statewide, not just to his district. On the other hand, we have Governor Dayton, who seems to lack an understanding that just because he won’t run for re-election, others will, and they will pay a price for his improvident actions.

    I have to say, as a grassroots activist, this kind of childish, irresponsible behavior is deeply frustrating, and would be disillusioning had I still retained the illusions I have a few years back. Not me, and not anybody I know, put in long hours during any campaign to get raises for state commissioners who will never be anything more than transitional figures. And on a more cynical level, for these guys who are supposed to be capable politicians, to make such basic political mistakes, on the most trivial issues imaginable, at the expense of stuff that actually counts for people who worked so hard to put them in office is just mind boggling.

  2. Submitted by Frank Phelan on 02/13/2015 - 09:46 am.

    Bakk’s Example

    Dayton should follow Bakk’s example. Look at how he carefully educated the public about the need for a new senate building. It was very open, and he was able to build consensus.

    Oh wait, that’s right, he had it quietly slipped into a bill at the end of the session. At least Dayton was public about his intentions. Bakk tried to get cute, and contributed to the DFL loss of the House.

    Further, Bakk says the raises should be “incremental”. With the salaries basically flat for 12 years, just how would he define incremental?

    Salaries for politicians and cabinet level appointees are completely dysfunctional. They are all afraid to stick their necks out so they only do it about once a decade. There are always a few who cry that “the tax payers didn’t get a 45% raise this year!” A lazy media does little to give context, such as how much per year that is averaged over the time since the last raise.

    Can’t we just set up a commission of retired Supreme Court judges to meet once every year or two and decide this? Or just use the rate of increase for Social Security retirement benefits? And make it illegal for the politicians to vote it down. if they don’t want it, just turn it back to the treasury.

  3. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 02/13/2015 - 09:57 am.

    Dayton is shocked, shocked

    that a member of his party refused to join him in thumbing his nose at the taxpayers of this state.

    Dayton’s position seems to be “I won the election and I can do whatever I want to do.” He as much as said those words before he caught himself mid-sentence.

  4. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 02/13/2015 - 10:29 am.

    As Tip O’Neill said

    …”All politics is local.” Sad to see the Minnesota DFL apparently forming the circular firing squad that is the stereotyped characteristic of Democrats around the country. They will accomplish little in that configuration – many DFL legislators will be forced to choose sides in this playground dispute – and in the process will also open the door – widely – for greater influence by the Party of No. Mr. Baak will likely have reason to regret his course of action, and Mr. Dayton will likely have reason to regret his resulting temper tantrum. This is the sort of thing, gentlemen, that ought to be kept “in-house,” and not played out in front of an eager and cynical media establishment.

  5. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 02/13/2015 - 10:55 am.

    Slipping bills in

    I have no problem with doing unpopular or politically risky things. And I have no problem with using not very nice procedural ways to get them done. But what I do have a problem is when we do things that are politically risky that aren’t worth the risk. Salaries for government officials, sadly enough, are the easiest issues in the world to demagogue. And sadly, my Republican friends have never resisted the political temptation of doing just that. And believe me, there are costs to that demagoguery which I definitely won’t go into here. But when you get down to it, it’s hard to see how giving raises, even needed raises, is worth the political risk.

  6. Submitted by David Markle on 02/13/2015 - 11:52 am.

    Who’s on first?

    Do we know whether Dayton consulted Bakk before Dayton announced he’d raise salaries?

  7. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 02/13/2015 - 11:56 am.

    This embarrassing tantrum is an example of why Dayton essentially quit his job as US Senator. He can’t negotiate, and further, hates the very idea he should have to.

    Also, let us not forget that the DFL snubbed him, and he has no motivation to help them now. Succinctly stated, we’re in for a couple of highly entertaining years.

    • Submitted by Bill Gleason on 02/14/2015 - 08:20 am.

      Really, Mr. Swift?

      As I recall, Mark Dayton chose not to run for a second term as Senator. Maybe he realized how pointless what was going on in Congress had become. Good for us that he decided to spend his time in a position that would do good things for the state.

      He can’t negotiate? That is pretty funny. He seems to get along reasonably well with the GOP opposition and even has stated that he trusts Daudt. We haven’t heard words like that for a long time.

      “the DFL snubbed him” ? As best I can recall, the governor never asked for the DFL endorsement the first time he ran. It is more like he snubbed the DFL. Perhaps this is why governor wannabe Bakk misbehaved?

      And I am amused that someone who lives in South Carolina would complain about a temper tantrum by a governor. Niki Haley – the SC governor – is the Queen of Temper Tantrums. Google is your friend.

      Finally, I wish to point out an excellent piece by Michael Brodkorb

      Take a bow Senator Bakk

      wherein he congratulates Senator Bakk for an academy award level acting job.

      • Submitted by Thomas Swift on 02/16/2015 - 11:42 am.

        I’m sure Dayton is happy to have you and Michael Brodkorb out there pulling for him, but his embarrassing tenure as US Senator is well documented. I was also under the impression Dayton had showed up at the DFL convention prior to his first election as Governor.

        Finally, I’ve been unable to find anything describing Nikki Haley as “Queen of Temper Tantrums”. Perhaps you miss-googled.

        • Submitted by Bill Gleason on 02/16/2015 - 03:47 pm.

          Tsk, tsk, tsk, Mr. Swift

          You need to get your story straight. Dayton must have worn a disguise and a phony ticket to get in to the Duluth DFL convention in 2010. The DFL wouldn’t give him a ticket as I recall.

          It is rather funny that you would claim Dayton’s term as Senator was so embarrassing ….

          However could he have been elected governor, if that were the case?

          Perhaps the people in Minnesota were aware that little of actual value was going on in Washington, and accepted his offer to work for us in Minnesota with gratitude.

          We’ve elected him twice and he has done a pretty good job.

          Niki Haley, on the other hand – you seem to strangely forgive in your new state of residence, SC.

          Here is a reading assignment

          Nikki Haley Makes National List For Bad Behavior

          S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley is one of eighteen governors to make a new national list … and like most of the lists South Carolina winds up on, it’s not a good one.

          CREW blasts Haley in several categories – including her scandal-scarred tenure as a member of the S.C. General Assembly, her “pay-to-play appointments,” her acceptance of “free trips on the private planes of donors, appointees and people with business before the state,” her flouting of transparency standards and her “misuse of federal funds.”

          The report – which devotes seven pages to Haley’s malfeasance in office – is as compelling an indictment of the governor’s myriad ethical lapses as we’ve seen in some time, bringing to light multiple scandals that South Carolina’s mainstream media have allowed to fall by the wayside in recent years.”

          • Submitted by Thomas Swift on 02/16/2015 - 07:14 pm.

            Bill you just said the DFL wouldn’t let Dayton into the convention; that’s a snubbing. Like I said. My story was straight.

            Also, you said Nilki Haley been described as the Queen of Tantrums. The blog you dredged up says nothing of the sort. If you could verify one statement before jumping off into another, that would be swell.

            Finally, I’m sorry, but you are really asking the wrong guy to explain how Dayton got elected after putting in the embarrassing show in the US Senate.

  8. Submitted by Walt McCarthy on 02/13/2015 - 12:32 pm.

    Gee, a politician is upset

    Gee, a politician is upset that one of his party members is honest and wants to save taxpayers from wasting money on unnecessary raises.

  9. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 02/13/2015 - 01:55 pm.

    Are you saying that both politicians face risks (Dayton for proposing the raises, and Bakk for demagoguing them)?

    Part of the problem as I see it, is that neither Dayton nor Bakk face risks. Their risky behavior is affecting others,

    “Speaking of risk that wasn’t worth taking, it was Bakk who pushed the Senate Office Building boondoggle, an (in my opinion, embarrassing) example of dangerously pushing one’s own self interest over that of the State.”

    Absolutely a classic example. And an issue that was classically demagogued. I happen to know that Republican legislators were just involved in the design and creation of the Senate Office Building as Democrats but when it became campaign time, it was all a DFL deal. And you notice that despite campaigning against it, Republican are doing nothing about it? The building could easily be converted to a non legislative use, but the fact is, Republican senators are just as eager for new office space as DFL senators.

    “We shouldn’t even have 68 Senators, something that former Burnsville Representative Will Morgan sought unsuccessfully to change by reducing the Upper House’s numbers by twenty. We should have, say, 37.”

    Oh maybe, but those districts would get awfully large.

  10. Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 02/13/2015 - 03:47 pm.


    They kinda handed you that one.

  11. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 02/13/2015 - 04:07 pm.

    I Smell A Rat

    It seems to me that in undercutting Gov. Dayton’s implementation of the salary increases recommended by a 2013 compensation commission based on a survey of similar positions,…

    (thanks to Conrad Soderholm in his comment on Cindy Brucato’s story about former Gov. Carlson’s comments about these salary increases)…

    Mr. Bakk is just firing the first volley in the “I’m NOT Mark Dayton” groundwork he suspects is necessary to grease the skids for his upcoming run for governor.

    Sadly, in doing so, he’s convincing me that he’s distinctly UNqualfied to govern the state of Minnesota,…

    being more interested in his own political fortunes and his own personal interests than in anything or anyone else.

  12. Submitted by Pavel Yankovic on 02/13/2015 - 06:06 pm.

    A temper tantrum…

    by a spoiled little rich kid who didn’t get his way. And people thought Stuart Mills was a little brat?

    • Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 02/14/2015 - 01:29 pm.

      Jealous Envy of the Wealthy Seems NEVER to Apply

      when those wealthy are the kind of “conservative” Republicans,…

      who consistently do everything in their power to pull the ladder they, themselves climbed to success,…

      up behind them,…

      and, thereby, make sure that as few people as possible have the opportunity to follow them up,…

      when those wealthy “conservatives,” are looked at by non-wealthy “conservative” admirers,…

      who presumably hope a few crumbs will fall from their tables.

      It’s no wonder those conservatives who are NOT wealthy so often feel as if they’re the “Lazarus” of the Biblical parable (even though they NEVER fault the rich man as Jesus, himself, does).

  13. Submitted by Robert Gauthier on 02/14/2015 - 11:39 am.


    A bit of background should be interjected into this debate of online pundits with opinions but few facts.
    1. The pay raises the the Governor implemented were done because they were suggested by a bipartisan committee put together last year at the mandate of the legislature, the report came out and suggested the pay bumps the Governor implemented, as was directed by the legislature last year. The people who signed off on the report a few months ago were DAUDT and BAKK. So they now object to their own decision of several months ago.
    2. Bakk did not tell the governor, his excuse is to play the mental illness card- “he didn’t remember what i told him”.
    3. This is just CYA- he messed up with the Senate building, that no one but him wanted, and the Governor carried his water for. LAst session everyone was saying “what is he thinking?”. The answer is he was thinking about himself. IT cost the party in the last election, so he throws the commissioners under the bus to CYA his mistakes from last year.

    The guy is no leader, he is a regional politician. His actions on the mining shows he wants another significant IR giveaway, pollute the water, land and let the rest of the state clean it up after the mining companies leave, just like the last time we did this.

    • Submitted by Tom Anderson on 02/17/2015 - 07:27 pm.

      Did Daudt really

      Vote for a law allowing the Governor to be the sole person responsible for deciding the wages of all the state commissioners?

  14. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 02/16/2015 - 08:08 am.

    Mr. Gauthier’s

    …point #1 trumps all the other comments, including my own previous one. It’s dishonest in multiple ways to chastise the Governor for following up on a proposal you’ve already approved. I still think Dayton’s tantrum would have been better served if it had been delivered privately, but the basis for the tantrum seems much more reasonable in light of this new information.

    My own suspicions as a relative newbie to the state are in line with Gauthier’s last paragraph, as well.

    Baak probably represents the views of his constituents fairly well on the mining issue, and perhaps he has to do that in order to be reelected, but what’s good for the voters of his particular district isn’t necessarily good for the state as a whole. It’s the sort of conundrum that makes politics responsible for the sale of many packages of antacids – to politicians.

  15. Submitted by Wayne Coppock on 02/16/2015 - 10:09 am.


    Why is everyone so against raises? It’s bad enough that wages are stagnant in the private sector, so let’s race it to the bottom by keeping government wages stagnant as well? Minnesota is doing quite well financially, so doesn’t it make sense to give its employees a raise? Back in the day (har har) private sector employers would do some form of profit sharing/bonuses/raises when they were doing well–but this is the ‘free market knows best!’ policy we choose to ignore?

    Boy what a great world some people want to build–one where no one gets a raise ever again but the prices of goods continue to rise.

  16. Submitted by Sean Olsen on 02/13/2015 - 01:14 pm.

    Because Bakk got his risky office building through shouldn’t mean that we’re obligated to go along with Dayton’s risky commissioner pay raise. Maybe DFL leaders should instead focus their efforts on things that are really going to, you know, help people.

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