Two state representatives from northern Minnesota have formed a new Minnesota Senate Independent Caucus, saying it will provide more opportunity to work across party lines.

State Sens. Thomas Bakk, Cook, and David Tomassoni, Chisholm, last week said they are forming the Independent Caucus to provide an opportunity to chair committees, and because it makes sense to better serve their districts within the legislative framework.

“People are going to wonder why I’m doing this – and to be honest, there are several reasons,” Bakk said in a statement. “I’m very disappointed by the extreme partisanship going on nationally and right here in Minnesota. Both political parties are to blame. The constant negative and sharp rhetoric is undermining voters’ confidence in our public institutions. It doesn’t have to stay this way.”

Bakk said he and Tomasoni have worked across party lines all of their careers, and have always “voted our districts. We have always represented our districts as bipartisan and moderate members of the legislature. Forming this new caucus is just a natural progression of aligning more with moderate than the far right or left.”

Bakk said he and Tomassoni will not stray from the values of northern Minnesota,”and what our people are most passionate about — our economy and jobs that support our families and our economic lifeline of mining and wood products. Our natural resource-based economy is critical to our region of the state.”

Before the move Republicans held a slim 34-33 majority in the Senate.

District 3A Rep. Rob Ecklund, DFL-International Falls, said the announcement by Bakk does not change his relationship with Bakk, who represents Senate District 3.

“Tom Bakk was my friend before he was my senator,” he said. “We will still work together for the betterment of the district.”

Ecklund said he understands the frustration of working in the minority. “When it’s that close, it’s tough to count the votes,” Ecklund said. “Despite the naysayers, Sen. Tom Bakk has the best interests of Districts 3 and 3A in mind.”

Leah Rogne, DFL Senate District 3 chair, said Monday she was disappointed by Bakk’s exit from the DFL state Senate caucus.

“The Democratic Farmer Labor party has always had a platform of inclusion and equality,” she said in a statement. “We stand with Farmers, Labor, and all those who believe in a living wage, fair labor practices, protecting Social Security, women’s right to choose, racial justice, protecting our environment, and social safeguards that promote fair housing, quality education, and healthcare for all.”

Rogne, of Gheen, said “the party has not shifted, but has become more inclusive, more visionary, bringing more people into supporting a platform for the good of all. The DFL values have not shifted; it is Sen. Bakk who has chosen a different path.”

Rogne said Bakk will be expected to do the job he was elected to do: “to represent the interests of all the people of northeastern Minnesota on the things we care about. We will continue to work with him and any other legislators as we strive to implement our core values and make Minnesota and the world a better place.”

Minnesota DFL Senate District 3 includes Koochiching, Cook, Lake and parties of St. Louis counties.

A week before the announcement, Tomassoni was voted to serve as president of the Senate on a bipartisan vote of both Democrats and Republicans. This is the first time in Minnesota history that there is a president elected from a minority party.

“Serving as chair of a Senate committee will allow me to better serve my communities and deliver results for my district,” Tomassoni said. “My constituents elected me to serve them to the best of my abilities. The Iron Range has provided the ore that has forged the steel that has made the bridges of America. If we expect to actually bridge the partisan divide, someone must take a proactive step to build such a bridge. I consider this to be a positive approach in an attempt to move away from the negative and partisan rhetoric while continuing to fully support our way of life on the Iron Range.”

Tomassoni added, “People in the last election made it pretty clear that they wanted us to work together. For me that means a path forward to solving our economic and pandemic crisis in a bipartisan fashion.”