Newspaper article MinnPost.com

Minnesota's New Legislative Leaders Make a Political 'Odd Couple'

Newspaper article MinnPost.com

Minnesota's New Legislative Leaders Make a Political 'Odd Couple'

Article excerpt

The leaders of the new legislative majorities in the Minnesota House and Senate would seem to be a political odd couple.

Paul Thissen, who will be speaker of the House when the session begins Tuesday, is a city guy from socially liberal south Minneapolis. His resume shows Harvard for an undergraduate degree, the University of Chicago for his law degree. He's reserved, often jotting down notes before he speaks with members of the Capitol press corps.

Tom Bakk, who will be the Senate majority leader, is an Iron Range guy from Virginia. He's got an undergraduate degree from the University of Minnesota-Duluth and comes to politics out of the labor movement. Bakk wears his passions on his sleeve, sometimes causing Thissen to wince when he lets loose a blast on some Republican idea.

Given their roots, it's not surprising that the two represent the major divide within the DFL.

Metro area vs. Greater Minnesota

Bakk, the 57-year-old union guy, represents a region of the state in which there's resentment over the environmental piety of many metro-area DFLers. There's a belief on the Range and across much of outstate Minnesota that metro-area DFLers put trees ahead of people.

"I'm an old-fashioned jobs Democrat" is how Bakk describes himself.

He goes on to say that he believes there are substantial differences in attitudes toward jobs in the metro and outstate. In oustate regions, jobs are viewed as precious.

"When a small town loses a business," Bakk said, "it may not be possible for the person who's lost his job to just commute to another job. In the metro area, if you lose a job, you may be able to find another job a few miles away."

Bakk can almost tear up when he talks about the woes of the unemployed, presumably because he's been there. As a carpenter in the 1980s, he ran out of unemployment benefits before being able to find work again.

Thissen, 48, has a political style that is far less personal. He speaks constantly of working to help the middle class, but Minnesotan's aren't ever going to see Thissen cry or explode.

"I'm understated," said Thissen, smiling. "I guess that makes me more Minnesotan, doesn't it?"

But who is more Minnesotan when it comes to walleye fishing?

"OK," Thissen said, "he gets me on the walleyes."

(Recall, last year, it was Bakk who thought he'd played the ultimate Minnesota political card when he came up with "Mom's Amendment," a proposal that would have moved the fishing opener to the week before Mother's Day weekend. "Not even Republicans can be against that,'' he said. But alas, resort owners, among others, feared that the change would create a loss in business.)

They know each other well

For all their style and background differences, though, the two say they have no problem getting along.

One of their big advantages, Bakk said, is that they got to know each other well in 2010, when they were among the long list of DFLers campaigning for governor. …

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