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Bakk joins State Capitol retirement parade

After 28 years representing Minnesota's arrowhead, Senator Tom Bakk from Cook has decided not to seek re-election.

ST PAUL, Minn. — Four terms in the Minnesota House followed by six terms in the Minnesota Senate. It adds up to 28 years for Sen. Tom Bakk of Cook. And he's decided that's enough.

Sen. Bakk announced Thursday he won't run for re-election in his fall, joining a large exodus of lawmakers who won't be back for the 2023 session. He said he wants to spend more time with his family, including his grandchildren who live in northern Minnesota.

"I've got eight grandchildren now. They're a long way away from here," Bakk told KARE.

"I remember going fishing with my grandpa and I want them to remember that with me. That’s very hard, especially when you get into leadership roles like I have here. For some of us that are in leadership positions this isn’t a part-time job anymore."

Bakk, a carpenter and union leader in the state's Arrowhead region, was first elected to the House in 1994 and won his first Senate election in 2002. He rose through the ranks to become leader of the DFL Caucus, serving as Senate Majority Leader and later Senate Minority Leader.

During those years he spearheaded efforts to raise the minimum wage and index it to the cost of living and make major investments in all-day kindergarten.

"I feel like an awful lot of good things have happened and I've been part of that," Bakk remarked.

"I’m at a point where I feel I’ve paid my dues, and it’s time for someone else to pick up the flag and someone will. There’s a lot of really good people in northern Minnesota."

Lawmaker exodus

As of Thursday, 17 of the Senate's 67 members had announced they're retiring. Of that group 13 have decided, like Bakk, to leave politics. Four others are running for other offices. Republicans Paul Gazelka Michelle Benson are both in the governor's race. Democrat Jerry Newton is running for a House seat, while Karla Bigham is running for Washington County Commission. 

See a full list of retiring Minnesota lawmakers here from the Legislative Research Library.

In the House so far 33 state representatives have said they're retiring. Of those, 17 are leaving politics for now, while 12 are running for seats in the Senate. Another four House members are running for other offices.

House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler is running for Hennepin County Attorney. His fellow Democrat Rena Moran is running for Ramsey County Commission. Two Republicans, Nels Pierson and Jeremy Munson, are both running for the late Congressman Jim Hagedorn's seat in the U.S. House. 

"Senator Bakk has a very, very strong legacy of representing the Iron Range," Republican Senate Majority Leader Jeremy Miller told reporters Thursday.

"He’s become a close friend to many here in the legislature, including me. We're going to miss Senator Bakk. He still has work to do, though. He's working on a bonding bill and I'm sure he has other things."

Bakk and Sen. Dave Tomassoni, a fellow Iron Ranger, broke away from the DFL Caucus in December of 2020 and became independents who could swing either way on key Senate votes. Ten months earlier, Senate Democrats had elected Sen. Susan Kent as their new caucus leader over Bakk.

Earlier this year, Kent stepped down from the minority leader post to spend more time caring for her ailing mother. Sen. Melisa Lopez-Franzen of Edina was elected to replace Kent as Senate DFL leader, but she's also retiring after redistricting put her in the same district with fellow Democrat Ron Latz.

Sen. Franzen praised Bakk Thursday.

In fact, redistricting played a huge role in many lawmakers' decisions about whether to run again or retire. Others had just reached the age where, like Bakk, they didn't want to miss time with their families.

"In his 28 years serving Northeastern Minnesota Senator Bakk has been a strong voice not only for his constituents, but for people across the state on the issues he cared deeply about, and that Minnesotans cared deeply about," she said.

RELATED: New 2022 congressional, legislative maps released for Minnesota

Franzen cited his work on tax reform, education, stabilizing school funding and the state budget and advocating for family-supporting jobs, plus his efforts to secure funding so for the massive State Capitol restoration project and the new Senate Office Building.

Tomassoni was diagnosed last year with ALS and decided he won't run for re-election because the degenerative disease is taking such a heavy physical toll. 

"The truth is the Senate’s not going to be the same next year," Bakk said Thursday.

"My friend David Tomassoni won’t be here. My friends Paul Gazelka, Scott Newman, Julie Rosen, Dave Clausen, and Jerry Newton won’t be here. A lot of people that have been close friends won’t be here next year. That’s a little hard."

RELATED: Minnesota State Senator Tom Bakk announces retirement

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