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“Carpenters solve problems. Because if you don’t, nothing gets built,” he said. “That’s why I am so stuck on tax reform. I want to fix this. It’s part of the fabric of who I am.”
Several Senate Democrats say they strongly support Bakk and credit him with corralling a diverse coalition of rural and Twin Cities lawmakers with divergent views on issues such as same-sex marriage and the environment.
Bakk’s strength comes from years of building a political foundation at the Capitol. He helped orchestrate dramatic Democratic victories around the state in the last election, putting them squarely in the majority.
He also developed a reputation as a savvy negotiator.
“Tom is an incredible strategist, and thinks multiple moves ahead,” said Tom Hanson, budget chief under former Gov. Tim Pawlenty. “He’s also not afraid to be tough.”
Senate Democrats say they have never seen Bakk resort to arm-twisting. Even the governor’s staff say he is known for sitting in important meetings, absorbing what is being said by all sides and not saying a word.
“He’s someone that just by physical stature could be that kind of old-school Range stereotype, but that’s not his style at all,” said Sen. Roger Reinert, DFL-Duluth. “I have never seen him say, ‘I am leader and this is how it is going to be.’ Never once.”
Charlie Weaver, executive director with the Minnesota Business Partnership, said he has tangled with Bakk over campaigns and other issues.
“People know Tom is fearless and they know he’s not afraid to go to the mat, or go into special session, to get what he wants,” Weaver said. “He’s a very effective negotiator, and I always check to see if I have my wallet when I leave the room.”
Bakk has one key leverage point that neither Dayton nor Thissen have this session: They face re-election next year, but the Senate isn’t up for four years, allowing time for stormy political waters to settle.
Bakk takes pride that every union contract he negotiated never resulted in a strike.
“At the end of the day, you have got to be fair,” he said. “Everyone has to get something, because next session we will be back here with [Thissen] and the governor. None of us should leave angry.”
Baird Helgeson • 651-925-5044