Local View: Tomassoni, Bakk playing for the name on the front of the jersey, not the back

Iron Range senators created an independent caucus in the name of serving their constituents


In a time when political turmoil is at a peak perhaps not seen since the Civil War, two senators in northern Minnesota are epitomizing not only the foundation of an elected official but public service and service to the people they represent.

Service is not often a word that comes to mind when discussing elected officials, especially at the local level. However, Sens. Tom Bakk and David Tomassoni are showing what service means even in tumultuous times. In November, they broke away from the DFL to form an independent caucus.

Simply put, the Minnesota DFL has too often ignored the “L” in its name, forgetting one of the very foundations that formed the state party. What that “L” represents, “labor,” is what built this state and this country: the roads we drive on every day, the houses we raise our children in, and the buildings where our businesses operate.

To better serve their neighbors and, most importantly, everyone who lives in their districts — and also to honor the legacy and impact of labor — Bakk and Tomassoni honored hard-working people over a political party.

The decision did not come easily or without sacrifice. Tomassoni and Bakk have potentially committed political suicide. Their decision may very well cost them dearly in their next elections. However, in true Ranger fashion, they made the decision to stand up and to say, “I’m doing what’s right for the people who live in my district.” That is why we elect officials.


Their bravery should be commended. Yet party diehards will vehemently criticize their decision, ignoring that nothing about their two-person independent caucus changes the values that earned both of them multiple terms serving the people they care about.

Neither Tomassoni nor Bakk have changed their stances on protecting the elderly or fighting for jobs on the Iron Range. Neither senator will stop supporting education; meeting with mayors; or attending fundraisers for hunting, ATV, or other community causes. Neither senator has changed his stance on protecting hard-working union labor on the Iron Range. They will continue to support and fight for the industries that provide good-paying jobs. Most importantly, they will continue to fight for the men and women on the Range who go to work every day to put food on the table.

They took this political risk not out of necessity. They did it to better serve their constituents.

Unfortunately, the Twin Cities area has come to dominate the messages and the path of the DFL, overshadowing the hard-working families of northern Minnesota. Twin Cities’ DFLers too often ignore the hard-working families of northern Minnesota while referring to our area as “their backyard.”

Just look at the recent DFL opposition to two major Range projects: the Line 3 Replacement Project, which is replacing an aging pipeline, and the PolyMet mining project, which promises to safely mine the materials that will help reduce our reliance on fossil fuels. These two projects will inject billions of dollars and create thousands of jobs in northern Minnesota. And the real science — not the emotionally injected hyperbole provided by radicals — is that both projects can be moved forward safely.

The DFL’s opposition to these projects forced the hands of Sens. Bakk and Tomassoni. Perhaps the senators’ defection will remind the DFL of its foundation.

I grew up on the Iron Range. I swam in the abandoned mine pits (don’t tell US Steel). I played hockey in the same arenas as my father and drank the cleanest water in Minnesota. If you have not yet made the connection, my father is Sen. Tomassoni. Admittedly, I am biased. However, my relationship has also given me unique and valuable insight.

I was lucky enough to spend time working in St. Paul with my dad during one recent difficult session. I’ll never forget, at 3 a.m., my “old man” suddenly saying (as I was snoozing off), “I got something in every bill and brought hundreds of millions of dollars back home.” He had a look of pride on his face; it was an almost-impossible feat. It was the same look I imagine his father had when standing back to consider the hockey arena he had built for his community as a volunteer. He had just done something special, and people’s lives were going to be better because of it.


A couple weeks before the decision to form an independent caucus, my father and I worked in my garage cutting up meat from a successful hunt.We discussed the implications from every angle. He called on every source of advice he could think of. I watched my often-unshakable father visibly stressing about the difficulty of the decision.

A dedicated DFLer for three decades, he was presented with two paths. The easy path was staying with the DFL and serving two years with plenty of DFL funds for his next election. The windy, rocky road was one only a Ranger on an ATV could navigate. The few days we spent going back and forth and moving the hypothetical chess pieces were just a fraction of the time he spent considering his decision.

When the time came to decide, it came down to one sentence: “I have to do what’s best for the people of my district,” Dad said.

As we say in hockey, you play for the name on the front of the jersey and not the name on the back. Just like “The Mighty Ducks,” Sen. Tomassoni plays for Minnesota Senate District 6 and Sen. Bakk for Minnesota Senate District 3.

The two senators should be applauded. They are playing for the name on the front of the jersey.

Dante E. Tomassoni of Hermantown works as an attorney in Duluth and is the son of Minnesota Sen. David Tomassoni of Chisholm. He wrote this for the News Tribune.

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