DFLer-turned-independent Tom Bakk endorses 2 Democrats in key House races


Minnesota Senator Tom Bakk of Cook, who is retiring, made waves in 2020. The former DFL majority leader turned independent and caucused closely with Republicans who now control the state Senate. He is not fully committed to the GOP, however, as the November midterm elections approach.

MinnPost photo taken by Walker Orenstein
State Sen. Tom Bakk

MinnPost’s Bakk said Saturday that he supports incumbent Reps. Dave Lislegard (of Aurora) and Rob Ecklund (of International Falls), two Democrats in key northeastern Minnesota swing elections. These races could decide who gets a majority in Minnesota House next year. Bakk, a well-known politician from the Iron Range region, could endorse the candidates.

Bakk responded to questions regarding his endorsements in northeastern Minnesota by writing, “It’s very crucial to range communities that Dave Lislegard & Rob Ecklund are both re-elected.”

Bakk stated that it is “imperative” Ecklund or Lislegard win after the deaths of Sen. David Tomassoni, Chisholm, and the retirements, respectively, of himself, GOP Sen. Carrie Ruud, of Breezy Point, and Republican Rep. Dale Lueck, of Aitkin.

Bakk stated that the region’s success is dependent on its seniority as they consider the retirements.

It is probable that every seat outside of Duluth in northeastern Minnesota will be hotly contested. This region was once a stronghold of the DFL. It has shifted to the GOP under Trump, and Republicans are now targeting the region in their bid to retain the Senate and flip the House.

Rep. Rob Ecklund

This includes Bakk’s Senate District 3 seat and Tomassoni’s Iron Range seat, now Senate District 7. Both were elected in 2020 as Democrats before they became independents that sided with the GOP.

At least five congressional districts in the House are competitive. They cover a vast area that includes International Falls and Grand Marais as well as Two Harbors, Two Harbors, Two Harbors, Hermantown. Fourteen of these districts are currently only represented by Democrats. After being placed in the same district by court-drawn maps, Julie Sandstede of Hibbing and Spencer Igo from Grand Rapids, DFL Rep. Julie Sandstede is now facing Republican Rep. Spencer Igo.

A study of the preferences of voters in northern Minnesota for 2020 using new boundaries following redistricting has shown that they preferred Trump to Joe Biden in four out of seven House and Senate seats. This is one reason why the GOP believes it can win. (Bakk’s District was nearly evenly divided between Trump and Biden. The other two districts only narrowly favored Biden. )

Bakk did not weigh in on Ecklund or Lislegard. Bakk said he is likely to endorse soon in his district, where Republican Andrea Zupancich faces Democrat Grant Hauschild. Babbitt mayor Zupancich said Bakk recruited Bakk to run. Hauschild is a Hermantown councilman.

Lislegard, a two-term Democrat, was the former mayor for Aurora. He is running against Republican Matt Norri who has a long history of owning a prominent Virginia beverage distribution company. Ecklund is currently serving his fourth term. Roger Skraba, the Ely Mayor, is his opponent.

When Lislegard was asked how important Bakk’s endorsement in a swing-seat, she simply replied: “An independent Voice.”

Norri stated that he has spoken to Bakk several times for general advice. However, he said he didn’t expect Bakk to endorse him because they are close friends. Norri stated last week that he hasn’t received all the endorsements he expected, including from unions. However, he noted that it’s a traditionally Democratic region and that Lislegard is an incumbent. Norri stated that he spoke to many of them and they assured him that if he won, and they know I will do well by them in the future, they would not hesitate to endorse me.

Ecklund stated that Bakk’s endorsement was “critical.” Skraba said Skraba didn’t surprise him since Bakk was a Democrat who became a “self-imposed Independent” and didn’t fully switch to the GOP. Bakk’s departure from the DFL was a relief to him, he said. It “showed how out-of-touch the Democrats in northern Minnesota span>

Skraba said that seniority does not always mean importance and stated that Ecklund and Lislegard have been too dependent on DFLers in the metro area. Skraba suggested that maybe, God forbid, this is what the area needs: some new leadership. “If you continue to stick the same people in and think you’re going span to get change, you’re not gonna span>

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