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The best of frenemies: why the Dayton-Bakk pay raise rift isn’t likely to be their last fight

MinnPost file photo by James Nord
In the five years state Sen. Bakk, left, and Gov. Dayton have held their respective leadership positions, the two have had plenty of dust-ups.

Tom Bakk thinks history has a tendency to repeat itself in state politics. Tempers flare. Tensions boil over. Then they fade away.

By his account, that includes the DFL Senate majority leader’s latest “skirmish” with DFL Gov. Mark Dayton, who last week said Bakk “stabbed me in the back” when he led his caucus to pass a six-month delay for pay raises for two dozen members of the governor’s Cabinet. Dayton said he was “blindsided” by the move, adding that he trusted House Republican Speaker Kurt Daudt more than Bakk, a member of his own party.

But Bakk, a senator from Cook who is always quick with a historical reference, said this isn’t the first time a governor has had a public dispute with legislative leaders in their own party. DFL Gov. Rudy Perpich, Dayton’s political mentor, had a serious rift with legislators in the late 1980s, particularly after he vetoed a DFL property tax relief tax bill that led to a fall special session to pass a new one.

“I think what I learned long ago, and maybe before I even came to the Legislature, was to never let disputes become personal,” Bakk said as he was surrounded by reporters on the Senate floor Monday, his first substantial comment on the matter since Dayton’s remarks last week.

“There’s always another issue to try and work through. After one disagreement we are going to need to find common ground. That is one of my core leadership principles, is to not let any disputes become personal in nature.”

“If the governor wants to make it personal, he can,” he continued. “But I’m not going to get into a tit for tat, personal attacks back and forth. It’s just not my style of leadership.”

Bakk and Dayton: a long history of disagreements  

History can also repeat itself in shorter time frames. In the five years Dayton and Bakk have held their respective leadership positions, the two have had plenty of dust-ups. Just a few weeks ago, the two disagreed over who should get what space in the state Capitol when a restoration project is complete in 2017. Last year, Dayton butted heads with the Bakk-led Senate Democrats over an increase the state’s minimum wage.

Prior to the pay raise controversy, the pair’s most public spat also came last year, when Dayton accused Bakk and Senate Democrats of holding hostage a time-sensitive package of tax cuts in order to move a new Senate office building forward.

In fact, for anyone who paid close enough attention to that drama, the recent back-and-forth may sound awfully familiar. Back then, Dayton said he agreed in principle with the need for a new office building for senators, but he thought the project cost too much, and that the design needed to be scaled back. Before the pay raise vote last week, Bakk said he agree in principle that commissioners should get raises, but that he had “reservations” about their size.

It’s worth noting too that the electoral realities for the two men have been reversed in the past 12 months. During the office building debate last year, Dayton was looking at going before voters in the fall; senators were not, and Republicans used the office building as a cudgel on the campaign trail — a way to accuse Democrats in the House and Dayton of wasteful tax-and-spend policies. Today, Dayton — having easily won re-election — says he’s never going to run for office again. But all 67 state senators are on the ballot next fall, and they’re certain to hear about the commissioner pay raises again.

What’s next

The Senate proposal on the raises, which passed on a 63-2 vote, allows lawmakers to review the increases in committees this year. If they don’t take a vote on the raises before July, the increases will automatically kick in again. House Republicans still haven’t taken a vote on their version of the bill, which also sends emergency funding to the Minnesota Zoo, the Department of Health for Ebola preparedness and the Department of Human Services for upgrades at the state’s security hospital in St. Peter.

“I think it’s still the right decision for the Legislature to review the case study that was done,” Bakk said. “We may well come to the same conclusion the governor did, that these are the numbers the commissioners should be at. But right now we don’t have the data.”

“I’m personally very comfortable working with [Dayton],” Bakk added. “I was equally surprised that I knew nothing about the pay raises until I read it in the newspaper.”

One of the main parts of the controversy was Dayton said he didn’t know that Bakk was planning to suspend the raises, which Democrats authorized him to do in a 2013 law change. Bakk said he told Dayton about a slew of options the Senate was considering to bring to the floor.

“What we did was indicated to him Wednesday night that we would be having a caucus to discuss our options when we got to the Senate floor. He asked, ‘Well do I need to come to caucus?’ I said I didn’t think that was necessary,” Bakk said. “The governor wasn’t asked to pick one of the options that I laid out to him, I just laid out to him what the potential options were for the Senate.”

The two haven’t spoken since Thursday, Bakk said, but their staff interacted over the weekend. There’s no clear solution to their dispute yet, but Bakk didn’t seem too worried about the rest of the session. He expects to meet with Dayton sometime this week.

“I’ve built a pretty strong image around here as someone that’s pretty candid and honest, and the governor is certainly entitled to his view,” Bakk said. “But my office has had a couple of conversations with his office over the last couple of days, and we will see where it goes from there.” 

Comments (26)

  1. Submitted by Logan Foreman on 02/17/2015 - 10:55 am.

    Most everthing Bakk

    Does is personal. He judges whether a bill or event will benefit his political life and acts accordingly. Common good? He has never heard of the concept.

  2. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 02/17/2015 - 11:03 am.

    One constant in the squabbles between Democrats is that no matter who wins, middle class taxpayers lose.

    • Submitted by Bill Gleason on 02/17/2015 - 11:34 am.

      And another

      constant is the actual damage done to the poor and middle class by the concept of “trickle down” which is definitely not a part of DemSpeak.

      And the anti-union chant of the right leads to lower wages in states such as South Carolina when compared to Minnesota.

      • Submitted by Thomas Swift on 02/17/2015 - 01:23 pm.

        You’re right, Bill. The only thing “trickling down” to the poor and middle class are the tax increases Democrats pass every year. And no Dem will speak of that.

        • Submitted by Jonathan Ecklund on 02/17/2015 - 02:24 pm.


          Except for Mark Dayton… who campaigned on it… and won.

          • Submitted by Jonathan Ecklund on 02/17/2015 - 04:03 pm.


          • Submitted by Thomas Swift on 02/18/2015 - 08:16 am.

            Dayton campaigned on taxing the rich. No mention was made of the trickle down that inevitably followed.

            • Submitted by Jonathan Ecklund on 02/18/2015 - 04:54 pm.

              Ah, that ‘trickle-down’ effect you speak of:


              “Shaver’s theory… is that Minneapolis is so successful at turning medium-size companies into giants because its most important resource never leaves the city: educated managers of every level, who can work at just about any company.

              Why is that? And how has the city stayed so affordable despite its wealth and success? The answers appear to involve a highly unusual approach to regional governance, one that encourages high-income communities to share not only their tax revenues but also their real estate with the lower and middle classes.

              One reason the American dream has come apart is that too few cities have shared their resources—and real estate—between the rich and the rest. This isn’t a fact of nature, like the mountains and oceans that restrain our coastal metros. It is a policy of our own choosing. The lesson of Minneapolis is that even our richest cities are free to make a different choice.”

        • Submitted by Logan Foreman on 02/17/2015 - 04:59 pm.

          Sources Swift

          Prove that tax increases are affecting the poor and middle classes

  3. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 02/17/2015 - 01:06 pm.

    Who’s leading the party?

    I think it’s pretty clear that Dayton’s instincts and judgement are better than Bakk’s, and if senate democrats want to keep their seats in the next elections they should follow Dayton. Bakk scaled back the transportation bonding, and scaled up the office building, and republicans effectively exploited both of those policies. Bakk initially opposed any movement on same-sex marriage bills for political reasons and that turned out be a non-issue for voters. Bakk is obviously tone deaf beyond his own district. Meanwhile, the republicans who are struggling to prove that they can govern instead simply obstruct, get a big boost from a democratic spectacle over a policy decision the Governor clearly had the authority to make, and it was actually good decision.

    If Bakk can’t get along with Dayton, instead of predicting more clashes, he should resign as majority leader and let someone who will clash less take over.

    • Submitted by Jim Halonen on 02/17/2015 - 01:50 pm.

      Better instincts?

      Bakk’s amendment passed 62 – 3, or something like that. It looks to me like Dayton’s instincts are out on the fringe here. Bakk is looking ahead to the next election, as in “let’s not blow our chances”.

      • Submitted by Logan Foreman on 02/17/2015 - 02:08 pm.

        Problem with that theory

        Is apparently Bakk and Daudt approved the study relating to those raises.

      • Submitted by Sean Olsen on 02/17/2015 - 02:11 pm.

        Neither of them have anything to crow about. Bakk’s tolerance for political malpractice has sharply declined now that it is his caucus on the ballot and his new office building is under construction. But he shouldn’t have to go along with Dayton’s tone-deaf commissioner pay raises just to atone for past sins. And it ain’t exactly news that Bakk views everything as opportunity for negotiation and exercising of leverage, even when negotiating with those he’s presumably aligned with.

      • Submitted by Eric Ferguson on 02/17/2015 - 02:15 pm.

        Blowing our chances

        Too bad Bakk didn’t think about blowing our chances before the last election. Don’t confuse DFL senators voting with their caucus leader for good political instincts. Bakk’s have been dreadful. He worries me in terms of retaining the Senate.

      • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 02/17/2015 - 03:54 pm.


        I suspect there may have been some, shall we say, poor communication. I wouldn’t read too much into that vote total, I doubt senate democrats would have voted so strongly for that amendment if they’d known it would blow up into such a rift. I suspect they thought Dayton was OK with the amendment, and if so, why would they think that Mr. Bakk?

  4. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 02/17/2015 - 02:10 pm.

    It’s all about them

    These unsatisfactory state employees seem to thing governing is all about them, not about the people who hired them.

  5. Submitted by Mike Downing on 02/17/2015 - 04:43 pm.

    Bakk is in touch with the voting public

    Senator Bakk as well as the DFL & GOP Senators are in touch with reality and of the voting public. Whereas Governor Dayton is out of touch with reality and of the voting public.

    • Submitted by jason myron on 02/18/2015 - 06:35 am.

      Sure, Mike…that explains

      why Dayton blew the doors off the GOP candidate whose name no one remembers anymore. He’s out of touch with the voting public…who just a few months ago overwhelmingly voted for him.

      • Submitted by Jonathan Ecklund on 02/18/2015 - 09:40 am.

        True Story

        In a low-turnout, non-presidential, Republican wave year, Mark Dayton still beat Jeff Johnson by nearly 6 points, and never to my knowledge trailed him in polling throughout the campaign, either. Whomever Dayton may be ‘out of touch’ with, it wouldn’t seem to be the people of Minnesota who’ve sent him to the Senate and into the Governor’s Mansion twice.

        • Submitted by Sean Olsen on 02/18/2015 - 03:06 pm.

          Did people vote for Mark Dayton because he wanted to hand out $30K raises to his commissioners? I would suggest not. Why anyone in the DFL would want to spend any political capital on standing behind such an absurd notion is beyond me. The commissioners got smaller raises in the last session without any controversy. That could have (and should have) been done again.

          • Submitted by Jonathan Ecklund on 02/18/2015 - 04:45 pm.

            “Nuts” to single issues…

            People voted for Dayton (in part) because he supports equitable pay at both the top and bottom of the income spectrum. I don’t believe its an ‘absurd notion’ to give people a pay raise, to both keep and attract good management in our highly important government agencies, especially when the pay has been stagnant for a decade. Mark Dayton also championed a minimum-wage increase and indexing it to inflation, which I supported for _some_ of the same reasons I support this pay hike.

            • Submitted by Sean Olsen on 02/19/2015 - 08:37 am.

              There’s a difference between giving people a pay raise, and giving them a $30K pay raise. These same commissioners received smaller raises over the last two years and no one blinked an eye at it. There was absolutely no reason to take them up to the maximum salary allowed by law in one year.

  6. Submitted by Joel Stegner on 02/17/2015 - 05:11 pm.

    Dayton-Bakk disagreement

    Where is the problem here? Is it in Minnesota that we expect everyone to be passive aggressive and not say what they were thinking? Dayton feels that Bakk let him down – an honest statement of feeling. Bakk says that he was surprised to hear about the proposed pay increases. Also, equally true. They have a conflict and it is clear that they need to talk more often and more candidly in the future to avoid repeating this kind of incident. Better that than the passive aggressive stuff that politicians are pulling all the time, which never, ever is acknowledged or corrected. As in the case of alcoholics, you have to understand you have a problem, before you can fix it.

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 02/18/2015 - 09:46 am.

      The problem

      Is that this isn’t a therapeutic millieu, it the legislature. These guys aren’t there to grow as individuals, they’re supposed to be grown ups, and act like grown ups. When they don’t act like adults, they jeopardize public welfare. The idea that the legislature and the governors office should be communicating with each other isn’t yet-to-be-discovered insight, it’s bloody obvious common sense. These people are adults, we expect them to act like adults.

  7. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 02/18/2015 - 10:35 am.

    According to a number of DFL senators who voted on Bakk’s motion, thinking he had the governor’s agreement on taking back the governor’s own action of just a few days earlier, Bakk lied to them.

    No one is addressing why Bakk did this. Why he had to leave the governor out of the loop, why he kept silent about not having the governor’s agreement. It looks to the average person like Bakk’s pure disdain for the governor (both the office of governor and the current man in the office). From a position of arrogance.

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