Bounced from the powerful position of majority leader by a Minnesota DFL Party that seems to be shifting uncomfortably toward an extreme, anti-mining left, Sen. Tom Bakk of Cook has more than proven himself and remains an effective and influential leader, reflective of his sprawling, massive district.
Eligible voters in that District 3, which extends up the North Shore from just outside of Duluth and runs along the Canadian border to nearly Lake of the Woods, can send Bakk back to St. Paul, fighting for them. His re-election on Nov. 3 is particularly important this year with COVID-19 still upending our lives and with the state facing a budget deficit in the billions.
“I’ve been through these kinds of downturns before … and we fixed the problem,” Bakk said at a candidate forum last week held virtually and sponsored by the News Tribune and Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce. “We raised income taxes on the 2% of highest wage earners, we raised cigarette taxes, and we solved the problem. And then in 2014, the Senate, under my leadership … forced the governor and the DFL House into a provision that guarantees we would rebuild our budget reserve by an automatic mechanism. That has happened. ...
“The economy is so tenuous (this year that) I think raising revenue is going to be the last option the Legislature should consider,” Bakk also said. “We need to evaluate everything we do to make sure that in a time of austerity, everything we fund is still important.”
After serving four years as chairman of the Senate Tax Committee, Bakk is who Minnesotans should want at the Legislature, helping to lead a post-COVID-19 recovery.
The pandemic has to be dealt with first, of course, said Bakk, demonstrating that his priorities are in line with his district’s and with those of Minnesotans.
“The most important thing is to get our arms around the pandemic. We’re just not going to have a normal economy, a normal school system, normal business community, coming (and) going; … things aren’t going to return to normal until we get our arms around this pandemic,” Bakk said. “We can encourage people, as uncomfortable as it is, to follow the recommendations of the CDC and Department of Health. If all elected officials were doing that, we’d probably get more participation on the part of the public. … It’s incumbent on elected officials to kind of lead the way.”
With his lunch pail packed every day, as he likes to say, Bakk has been leading the way since first being elected in 1995. He lives on Lake Vermilion. He and his wife have four children. Having eight grandchildren has helped him realize the importance of education, he said.
He supports police. “The Minneapolis City Council blew it” by voting to shrink its department, he said.
He also sees the need for improved internet access, especially in rural areas. The state has made funding available, he pointed out. It’s up to providers to step up and do their part, too.
He balks at his party’s platform position calling for a moratorium on copper nickel mining. “I’m extremely disappointed that they did that. We might as well just get rid of our environmental review process if we’re going to put moratoriums on,” he said. “How do we just preempt a business from developing? I just think it is very shortsighted.”
He recognizes the need, globally, to move toward renewables to combat climate change. “I just want to remind people that are against mining,” he said, “there’s about four tons of copper in a windmill. And if you’re going to have electric cars or solar panels, it requires metals. So mining is going to be critically important if we’re going to move toward a more green energy economy.
Bakk is being challenged by Republican Christopher Hogan, a commercial banker who calls himself a pro-industry, pro-commerce candidate. He grew up on Rainy Lake and lives now in Silver Creek Township between Two Harbors and Silver Bay.
“I can appreciate and I have a perspective on the struggles of small businesses and families and industries,” he said at last week’s forum. “I believe that my business and life experience provides me that perspective, and I plan to bring to the office a broad knowledge and a passion about the area.”
While his neighbors can urge Hogan to stay involved politically and in his community, his Senate bid simply lacks Bakk’s experience and influence. In addition to the state budget next year and the need now to all follow health guidelines to get COVID-19 under control, the Legislature in 2021 will be responsible for its once-every-10-years redrawing of district boundaries. District 3 benefits from having Bakk there for that, too.
“I’ve really built a legacy of being very much a moderate willing to work with anybody who’s willing, and I think that’s critically important,” Bakk said. “Networking across the party lines is very, very important if you plan to be around for a while. The (party in the) majority ebbs and flows, and you just have to have relationships with people if you want to get things done with your community.”
Bakk has those relationships. While he may be too moderate for the DFL, he remains the right choice for his District 3.
ABOUT THIS ENDORSEMENT: This endorsement editorial was determined solely by and written by the News Tribune Editorial Board.