Minnesota should get a new slogan: the land of 10,000 political divisions.
Well, maybe not quite that many, but the numbers have been trending upward in recent years as legislators and large blocs of voters are struggling to find their place in an increasingly polarized political environment.
Look no further than the Legal Marijuana Now Party, which just earned major party status two years ago. Several of the party’s candidates managed to pull a significant number of votes away from the two major parties in key races up and down the ballot this cycle, all without ever stepping foot on the campaign trail.
The number of political divisions is growing in the Minnesota Legislature, too. Just last week, longtime Iron Range Sens. Tom Bakk and David Tomassoni announced their split from the DFL minority caucus to form a new independent caucus of two.
Bakk, a moderate Democrat and Capitol dealmaker, cited “extreme partisanship going on nationally and right here in Minnesota” as part of the reason for breaking off. Their independent caucus is now the sixth at the Capitol, including the DFL and GOP caucuses in both chambers and the New House Republican Caucus, four members who broke away from the larger minority caucus.
“We have always represented our districts as bipartisan and moderate members of the Legislature,” Bakk continued. “Forming this new caucus is just a natural progression of aligning more with moderate than the far right or left. Additionally, we will not stray from the values of northern Minnesota.”
It’s a lot to keep track of, but it’s not exactly surprising in a state like Minnesota, which has a tradition of going its own way politically. It’s the state that elected former pro wrestler and Independence Party candidate Jesse Ventura governor in 1998. Former state Sen. Charlie Berg, who was first elected while the state still had nonpartisan legislative races, switched from Independent Republican to independent, to DFL, back to independent and then finally to the Republican Party over his three-decade career in the chamber.
But Bakk and Tomassoni’s situation more closely tracks with the experience of former Rochester Sen. Sheila Kiscaden, who said she saw the tilt of her former Republican Party shift away from the desires of her constituents over her more than a decade at the Capitol.
After losing the GOP endorsement for her Senate seat in 2002, she ran as an Independence Party candidate and won. Republicans refused to let her caucus with them, so she was invited to join the Democrats, who gave her the gavel of the State Government Finance Committee. Bakk and Tomassoni are in line for gavels in the Republican-led Senate for their decision to break away from the DFL caucus.
Kiscaden said like her, Bakk and Tomassoni’s constituents in their increasingly red districts will likely be better served by their move. “As the party changes its views over time,” she said, “there comes a time when your constituents don’t fit the party’s philosophy anymore.”