Two conflicting narratives of the inner workings of the Minnesota Senate DFL Caucus have emerged in recent media reports.
In the first article, published Monday in the Mesabi Daily News, Bill Hanna reported in Loyal DFL senators rally around Bakk that Roseville Democrat John Marty lost a vote challenging Tom Bakk for leadership of the caucus.
In the second article, published Wednesday in MinnPost, Briana Bierschbach reported in DFL senators divided over Bakk's leadership in wake of special session that the vote was never taken.
The first account purports to be taken from the lips of Majority Leader Bakk himself and Chisholm DFL Senator David Tomassoni, while the MinnPost article relies on senators who shared a range of assessments of the Majority Leader's conduct.
Monday: the Mesabi Daily News Version
In Loyal DFL senators rally around Bakk,readers find this version:
How successful of a job did Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk of Cook do for the Iron Range while also being a key player in making split government in Minnesota work?
Well, some di[s]gruntled DFL liberal legislators from the Twin Cities area tried to unseat him in caucus as leader of the majority party in the Senate. [emphasis added]
Their attempted DFL coup in the early morning hours of the Saturday finale of the 2015 legislative special session fizzled like a bad fuse on an unexploded firecracker.
Bakk’s support within the caucus was unwavering.
The Senate majority leader told the Mesabi Daily News Saturday afternoon that while he preferred not to comment directly about the caucus dust-up, he was pleased with the intra-Senate DFL backing he received and also his role in a session that relied for success on bipartisan partnerships with the GOP House majority.
Bakk was able to enjoy a double victory by playing a major role in the session’s outcome and also privately raising a beverage in a toast to his DFL Senate colleagues who remained steadfast and loyal to his leadership.
It is unclear from the account whether Hanna was in Bakk's presence when that beverage was raised but it might explain what follows in the article. We'll get back to that in a moment, after we check out Wednesday's story in MinnPost.
Sans Bakk: Bierschbach looks at both sides now
Bierschbach, who was honored earlier this spring as young journalist of the year by the Twin Cities Chapter of the Society Of Professional Journalists, reports in DFL senators divided over Bakk's leadership in wake of special session:
Around 3 a.m. on Saturday, June 13, after both the Minnesota House and Senate adjourned their one-day special session and most lawmakers had gone home, Democrats in the Senate were just getting started.
Three-dozen or so senators — most of the DFL’s 39-member caucus — gathered in a hearing room in an office building down the street from the state Capitol to let members vent their frustration. Their irritation wasn’t directed at Republicans, though. It was focused on their own leadership.
Bleary-eyed and frustrated after session, some senators considered taking Bakk up on something he had offered the night [Thursday] before session: Let the caucus take an up-or-down vote of no confidence in him as the Senate majority leader.
“There was a lot of conversation going around. People were talking fairly upfront about it,” said Sen. Jim Carlson, DFL-Eagan, who, like all senators contacted for this story, did not break a Senate DFL rule by revealing specific discussions held in the private caucus meeting. “He knew there was a lot of unrest.”
The vote was never taken, but senators stayed in the hearing room until 4:30 a.m., some demanding a change in style from leadership.
What we can draw from Bierschbach's account is that Bakk offered an up-or-down vote of no confidence prior to Friday's special session. The caucus declined. After prolonged wrangling over the AG and Environment budget bill, the caucus engaged in a "lot of conversation" but no vote was taken.
Hanna's inventive account of the Ag & Environment Vote
While Bierschbach clearly separates the special session action and that in the caucus that followed the gavel that closed the official action, Hanna intertwines the two.
There seemed to be some disarray in the closing hours of the special session when an amendment proposed by liberal DFL Sen. John Marty of Roseville was tacked onto the agriculture and environment bill, which defeated the measure by a single vote.
That extended the special session a couple more hours into early Saturday morning.
And the agriculture and environment bill also would have been approved on the first vote if Sen. Marty had not broken the agreement reached between Senate and House legislative leaders and Gov. Mark Dayton before the special session was called.
That deal called for no amendments to be brought forth and voted on. It was just supposed to be up-or-down votes on the three major bills that Dayton had vetoed, which prompted the session’s overtime.
But Marty wanted to remove provisions in the agriculture and environment measure that he deemed unfriendly to Minnesota’s environment.
In fact, the Senate first defeated the bill in a straight up and down vote, voted to adopt an amended version of the bill, sent that bill to the House, which amended it, and sent it back, whereupon the Senate adopted the bill. Here's a more accurate account reported by Jonathan Mohr of Session Daily in House, Senate pass 'original' version of omnibus environment, agriculture bill:
. . . The House passed the measure 78-47 as amended and the Senate concurred, passing the bill 38-29.
Those final votes continued a whirlwind of activity that saw the bill fail in the Senate, get repassed after a Senate amendment and then the House refused to concur, instead inserting an amendment to have the bill match what was agreed to by legislative leaders in order for Gov. Mark Dayton to call the special session.
The Senate fell one vote shy in its first attempt to pass the bill, but later reconsidered that vote and then amended the bill to remove language eliminating the Pollution Control Agency’s Citizens’ Board and repeal a provision that exempts sulfide mining from solid waste rules.
With that done, the bill was passed 40-26.
As soon as the House began its subsequent debate on the amended bill, McNamara offered an amendment of his own that removed the language added in the Senate and restored the bill to its original version.
“Unfortunately, the Senate did not abide by the agreement signed by all four leaders and Gov. Dayton,” McNamara said.
That amendment was adopted 73-52 and the House then began debate on the amended bill.
Here is the official record of action on SF5/HF4.
Given how Hanna compressed the story of passing the bill to the final round of consideration by the Senate, we have to wonder just what Bakk did say to him about what Hanna called a "attempted DFL coup" that "tried to unseat him in caucus."
We suspect that we're not the only ones, but given that Bakk didn't return Bierschbach's calls, we'll never know. Bluestem sincerely hopes that this isn't one of those cases where Bakk appears to try to tell one story to the media in Northeastern Minnesota, while the loyal caucus members say something else entirely to the rest of the state.
Or where Bakk blames something (like plots to raid the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board funds) on Metro Democrats. Such place-baiting is unbecoming (and not particularly accurate, as we noted in December 2014 in Range Trust? Baffling Senate Majority Leader Bakk blames IRRRB fund threats on Democrats.
And given how much Hanna adores this bill, we can only wonder if Bakk mentioned that in the end, he voted against it .
Photo: Minnesota Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk.
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