MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Democrats have been dealt a blow in the Minnesota Senate. Two powerful DFL senators are leaving the party to form their own independent caucus.

Tom Bakk of Cook and David Tomassoni of Chisolm are both strong advocates for northern Minnesota and the Iron Range. The announcement reflects a deep division with the Democratic party.

“People are going to wonder why I’m doing this – and to be honest, there are several reasons.  I’m very disappointed by the extreme partisanship going on nationally and right here in  Minnesota,” Bakk said. “Both political parties are to blame. The constant negative and sharp rhetoric is undermining voters’ confidence in our public institutions. It doesn’t have to stay this way.”

The state’s Republican Party all but broke out the champagne, saying in a statement: “The DFL has abandoned Greater MInnesota and we applaud Senators Bakk and Tomassoni for doing the same to the DFL.”

Political analyst Larry Jacobs says this is part of a larger crisis for Democrats.

“We see with these two defections a story that is playing out here in Minnesota and around the country which is the difficulty of Democrats winning in rural areas. They are an urban-suburban party,” Jacobs said. “Its a shocking and sad development for the DFL.”

For Bakk, it’s also revenge against metro area DFLers who earlier this year ousted him as the longtime Senate DFL Leader in favor of Sen. Susan Kent of Woodbury. She says Democrats shouldn’t worry.

“The Senate DFL caucus is the only caucus that we have right now that right now that represents greater Minnesota, the suburbs and Minneapolis and St. Paul. We value the voices from all communities and we know we can work together,” Kent said.

But the reality is a stronger GOP concentration in the Minnesota Senate, which can check Gov. Tim Walz and the DFL House Majority. There would have been 34 Republicans and 33 Democrats in the Senate; now it will be 34 to 31, with two independents.

“David and I have always voted our districts. We have always represented our districts as bipartisan and moderate members of the legislature. Forming this new caucus is just a natural progression of aligning more with moderate than the far right or left,” Bakk said. “Additionally, we will not stray from the values of Northern Minnesota and what our people are most passionate about — our economy and jobs that support our families and our economic lifeline of mining and wood products. Our natural resource-based economy is critical to our region of the state.”

Republican Majority Leader Senator Paul Gazelka said in a statement, “I welcome their announcement and the stronger alignment we will have as a result.”

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Esme Murphy

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