As a carpenter, Sen. Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, learned problem solving; as a union leader, he discovered a desire to help working-class families.
But Bakk soon understood that while union work is significant, the important decisions are made elsewhere.
“I realized that if you really want to improve the standard of living of working people, the rules get made at the Capitol,” Bakk said. “That really is what prompted me to run for the Legislature — my desire to continue the work that I was doing for the union, trying to elevate the standard of living for the working class.”
Bakk launched his gubernatorial bid in June on the platform of helping Minnesotans get back to work.
Bakk said he believes Minnesota’s looming budget deficit is simply a symptom of a bigger economic issue. The deficit, he said, stems from declining tax revenue resulting from a lack of jobs.
Bakk, who chairs the Senate Tax Committee, said raising taxes and cutting the budget aren’t enough to squash the deficit — creating work is paramount for raising revenue.
“Jobs” is the key word in Bakk’s campaign, he said. It sums up everything he hopes to accomplish.
“The most important thing is to get Minnesotans working, because until we do that, there won’t be money to invest in things that we all believe are important,” he said.
In early November, Bakk requested that Gov. Tim Pawlenty call a special legislative session to pass a $1 billion public-works bill before the normal session begins.
Bakk’s reasoning was to start work as soon as construction season begins in Minnesota, rather than wait for the bill to make it through the Legislature during the normal session, which would delay the process. Pawlenty declined the request.
Bakk served four terms in the Minnesota House of Representatives after being elected in 1994, and he is serving his second term in the Senate. He and his wife, Laura, live on Lake Vermillion near Cook, Minn.
In addition to holding the chair of the Taxes Committee, Bakk, a University of Minnesota-Duluth alumnus, sits on four other committees, most related to finance.
“I understand tax policy, I would argue, better than any of the other candidates, and tax policy matters. I think it’s important background for a governor to have,” Bakk said. “In order to spend money, the state has to have it; in order to have it, you’ve got to understand tax policy.”
Bakk said he wants to increase state support for higher education, returning to a previous practice.
Bakk said his centrist views and bipartisanship would be a departure from the current administration and would help solve some of the significant problems the state is facing.
However, those same moderate qualities could be Bakk’s undoing, said Tony Sutton, state chair of the Republican Party of Minnesota. Sutton said the main bloc of Democrat delegates identify with the leftist philosophies of candidates from Minneapolis rather than with Bakk’s rural centrism.
“If he really had a shot, I would actually be worried about his candidacy,” Sutton said. “I don’t think he actually has a prayer of getting the endorsement or a prayer of winning a Democrat primary.”
But, should Bakk secure the nomination, Sutton said he could be a formidable candidate.
“I think he’d be a threat if for some magical reason he could get through the Democrat process,” Sutton said. “The problem is, for the Democratic Party, that people like Tom Bakk just aren’t welcome.”