It is too bad the nominees for the 2015 Academy Awards have already been announced, because Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk's performance yesterday at the Minnesota Senate was worthy of a nomination.
The carpet leading into the chambers of the Minnesota Senate is not bright red like the carpet that will welcome Hollywood's elite attending the Oscar ceremony. But the political theater created by Bakk's feigned outrage over Governor Mark Dayton's decision to grant pay increases to commissioners should earn Bakk the opportunity to walk down the same red carpet next week at the Dolby Theatre.
Let's set the stage for Bakk's tour de force performance. In 2013, the Minnesota Senate passed legislation - supported by Bakk - which would allow the Governor of Minnesota to set the salaries of commissioners. Dayton supported the legislation and said in a statement, "I have lost outstanding employees because someone else could offer them salaries 50 percent or even 100 percent higher than state government."
After the legislation was passed, the commissioners received salary increases in 2013 and 2014. I could not find any public comments of concern about the salary increases from anyone, including Bakk. In January, Dayton again exercised the authority granted to him by Bakk and the Minnesota Legislature and he set salary increases to commissioners in 2015. But this time, Bakk cried foul.
The same legislator who voted in 2013 to allow Dayton to establish the salaries of his commissioners stood at his desk in the Minnesota Senate and now claimed legislators had an "oversight authority" to ensure a "thoughtful review" of the salary increases Bakk said "most likely are warranted."
If Bakk wanted to ensure the legislature had "oversight authority" over salary increases for commissioners, then why did he support changing the law in 2013 to allow the governor and not the legislature to set the salaries for commissioners?
But where Bakk's speech turned into a performance that should be considered for one of acting's highest honors is when he appeared confused about the salary increases authorized by Dayton, saying there is "a lot of information we don't know."
As I reviewed Bakk's speech and his captivating performance from yesterday, I was reminded of the advice given from the late George Burns to aspiring actors:
And remember this for the rest of your life: To be a fine actor, when you’re playing a role you’ve got to be honest. And if you can fake that, you’ve got it made.
After Bakk exited the stage, the Minnesota Senate voted to delay the pay increases for commissioners set by Dayton, who used the authority given to him by the same Minnesota Senate in 2013 to set the salaries of commissioners. The vote choreographed by Bakk yesterday appears to have more to do with the 2016 elections, when the entire Minnesota Legislature will be up for re-election. By allowing the Minnesota Senate to vote to delay the pay increases for commissioners, Bakk is providing political cover for senators (mostly DFL) who changed the law to permit a governor to set the salaries of their commissionors.
Dayton, who has been straight-forward and consistent about his position on salary increases for commissioners and legislators, offered a sharp critique of Bakk's performace yesterday. Dayton said, "I certainly learned a brutal lesson today that I can’t trust him, can’t believe what he says to me, and that he connives behind my back."
It seems Bakk has followed the sage advice given by Burns to aspiring actors and for that, Senator Bakk should take a well-deserved bow.
Picture source: Minnesota Senate