Dear Tom, I burned the bridge (
by Steve Timmer
Feb 13, 2015, 9:00 PM

Dear Tom, I burned the bridge

Or maybe you did

Republicans in the Minnesota Legislature have been complaining about the raises that Governor Mark Dayton has given his Commissioners, raises given pursuant to authority given to him by the Legislature a couple of years ago. In 2013 to be exact, when Tom Bakk was the majority leader of the Senate, as he still is.

Then, on Thursday, the 12th of February, DFL Majority Leader Bakk offered an amendment to an emergency services bill, that passed, with all Republicans in favor, and all but two DFLers in favor, to delay the raises for a few months. I want to mention, specifically, the two senators who stood with the governor — each of whom I am pleased to say that I know personally — Sandra Pappas, the President of the Senate, and Patricia Torres Ray.

Everyone else in the Senate DFL caucus folded his or her tent and went home, including all those who voted for giving the governor the authority to set Commissioner salaries — undoubtedly to pass this political football on to someone else, that is, the governor — and all those on the conference committee who recommended to the full Senate that the final bill to give the governor the authority be passed.

In a story in the Our Voices section of the Strib, Michael Brodkorb told Tom Bakk to take a bow over his dramatic performance on this. You can go to Michael’s story and find the link to the bill I’ve referred to, SF 1589.

Clearly, Tom Bakk was worried about the political implications of the pay raises. The most magnificent part of this chicanery, though, is that Sen. Bakk was willing to put somebody else’s majority on the line — the House DFL’s, that is — in order to push through a pet project of his: the new Senate office building.

Risk for thee, but not for me.

Sen. Bakk and the Senate DFL caucus managed to make this a much bigger issue than it would have been. All the amendment accomplished was a delay in the raises for a few months. It did almost nothing, which the Republicans and their sidekicks at the Minnesota Action Network will be sure to mention in 2016, as they quote Sen. Bakk extensively. Heck, anybody could write the hit lit.

As one would expect, Governor Dayton came up spitting rocks, saying that he had been blind sided and back stabbed about this:

Dayton held little back in his dismantling of Bakk, the Senate DFL Majority leader, who earlier that afternoon led his caucus in passing a proposal to suspend pay raises approved by Dayton for the top members of his administration. Dayton said he was “blindsided” by the move from a member of his own party and he didn’t know if he could ever trust him again.

Dayton knows, believe me, and he won’t ever trust Bakk again.

Governor Dayton has stood up to a lot of slander in his career. Based on what he’s invested in it, and the offices he has won, he obviously believes in his own judgment about things. And a lot of people like him. This is not a contest that Tom Bakk is likely to win.

Update: There was an interesting piece in the Strib on Sunday, 2/15, chock full of quotes and interesting bits. Among my favorites:

Sen. Kevin Dahle, DFL-Northfield, was under the impression that Bakk and Dayton had reached an accord [emphasis added] when he voted for the amendment, although he stressed he never heard Bakk say that directly [emphasis added].

“I know the governor knows the importance of moving forward and I believe tempers will fade,” said Dahle [in a hopeful tone of voice], adding that he personally saw political wisdom in delaying the raises. All 67 state senators are on the ballot in November 2016, along with the 134-member House.

How do you suppose Sen. Dahle got the idea there was a deal?

It is also near-laughable to think that the delaying the raises from a year and three quarters from the election to a year and a half from the election was “political wisdom.” It just shows defensiveness about an entirely defensible initiative.

No, Sen. Dahle, this was just your leader tweaking the governor’s nose, and Mark Dayton reacted appropriately. It must have really steamed the governor that he was acting pursuant to authority granted to him by the DFL-controlled Legislature in 2013.

Unmended, the rift between them could grow to the point where political leaders may question Bakk’s continued effectiveness as a leader expected to help his party’s governor attain mutual objectives.

But none of the half-dozen DFL senators reached for this story expressed any lack of confidence in Bakk’s leadership of their 39-member caucus.

“Tom Bakk is the majority leader of the Senate DFL, and for many reasons is supported by the caucus,” said Sen. Dick Cohen, a longtime DFL senator from St. Paul. Asked for his take on what happened, Cohen chalked it up to a communications breakdown.

Tom Bakk has the caucus’ full support, right up until the moment he doesn’t. Bakk made a bad move, both from a policy and a political standpoint. That’s going to sink in with the caucus after a while.

Further update: I forgot the best quote from the article:

“I’d say it’s been a pattern,” said Senate President ­Sandra Pappas, DFL-St. Paul. “I think there’s wishful thinking from both of them, that they both want the other person to agree with them, and probably a little too much testosterone involved.”

I think you’re right, Sen. Pappas, but sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

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