And then there was one (Iron Ranger)

Iron Range State Sen. Tom Bakk (DFL-Cook) has dropped out of the DFL gubernatorial race before next month’s endorsing convention. As the Iron Range guy in the Minnesota blogosphere you might be curious if I have any insights on this. Well, I’m from the Midwest. So if did, I’d never say in the first paragraph.

Here’s what I do know. The conventional wisdom is that Bakk’s exit helps fellow Iron Range candidate State Rep. Tom Rukavina (DFL-Virginia). That’s true. But it’s not the whole story.

Rukavina should indeed vault from the third tier up to the second, not yet with as much support as the front runners R.T. Rybak and Margaret Anderson Kelliher, but in the ballpark of Paul Thissen and John Marty. Interestingly, all four of the people I just mentioned live near the central core of the Twin Cities. Rukavina lives in a house he built himself in the woods north of the Iron Range. I’m not saying that to boost Rukavina; just pointing out the contrast that Rukavina will no doubt emphasize to Bakk delegates and the rest of the convention. Rukavina is now the presumptive non-metro candidate.

Here, in random order, are some things that conventional wisdom brokers might not realize:

  • Bakk supporters are not going to reflexively move from Bakk to Rukavina. It’s a mistake to assume that these delegates are all Rangers who simply preferred Bakk. In fact, some of these delegate are moderate Democrats who will be shopping for the most moderate option. Who’s that? Hard to say when everyone has their primary hat on, but my bet is that Matt Entenza, Paul Thissen or maybe even Susan Gaertner might be a better ideological fit for some of these delegates. I noticed that Entenza and Gaertner were the first out the gate citing the great hole in the campaign that Bakk’s departure would leave. Thissen, meantime, is placing all bets on finishing third on first ballot and becoming the compromise candidate if Rybak and Kelliher become locked up. He could do that, if he picks up Eighth CD delegates somehow.
  • Rukavina might appeal to Marty supporters as a second choice, as he is one of the few candidates committed to single-payer, universal health care. People often cite Rukavina’s pro-mining, pro-logging, pro-ATV environmental record as evidence that’s he can’t win liberals, but his record also contains more economic and health care populism than many liberals would ever expect.
  • This is a tangent, but it should be said that Bakk and Rukavina represent two sides of the Iron Range DFL political coin. They are friendly and bound by many of the same principles, but emerge from two different denominations of political thought and tradition. Rukavina emerges from a school of thought that emphasizes early labor organizing tactics — a Steelworkers kind of guy. Bakk emerges from a later labor tradition, one more in sync with business — a building trades kind of guy. If these distinctions mean nothing to you just keep reading. I can’t help you in one post.
  • Rybak and Kelliher are the front runners. By default, some Bakk delegates will likely join their ranks.
  • Further complicating this matter is that, insofar as the DFL endorsement is concerned, we are no longer dealing anything resembling a popular vote. We are dealing with a party political convention, same as the GOP, that relies upon citizen activist delegates with all manner of axes to grind and crosses to bear. This is old school politics. That’s not all bad, but it’s also not all predictable. A Bakk delegate is not a nebulous number at this point. It’s a real person with a name. And that person might want to jump on with a front runner, remain loyal to an Iron Ranger, or hold back for a deal. My personal prediction is that most Bakk delegates do move to Rukavina, but that several others don’t — particularly Bakk’s wealth of State Senate superdelegates.

In short, GAAAAAACK! I can’t predict a damn thing. I’ll be writing later this week about Minnesota’s next Lt. Governor, a person who has not been named and in whom I hold no special knowledge, but whose most important contribution will occur over a one-day period in April 2010, long before taking office.

Before closing, let me join others in thanking Sen. Bakk for his run. He represented an important part of any winning DFL coalition and the eventual nominee MUST NOT forget to do what Bakk was doing in reaching out to small business people, rural people and tradespeople. I am from a family described by all three of those terms and I know that there are many swing votes in families like mine that may be won or lost in 2010.


  1. A little labor history. The building and other skilled trade unions largely preceded the industrial unions like the steelworkers. I suspect that was true even on the Range. The split is really AFL versus CIO. The CIO was originally organized by the industrial unions as an alternative to the AFL and the skilled trade unions who largely didn’t support the industrial organizing of relatively unskilled workers at all.

    So the early tradition is Bakk’s, representing a group of elite workers with skills to demand higher pay. Rukavina represents the later tradition of activist unions that represent wage earners.

    Because the Range is a Democratic party stronghold, the politicians who would be business-oriented Republicans in the cities, suburbs or other rural areas still profess to be Democrats on the Range. Bakk got nowhere largely because a lot of people recognize that, while he may be a loyal Democrat, his views are far outside the party’s mainstream.

  2. That’s a fair point and I agree with you. I shouldn’t have said that Bakk represented a “later” tradition. In terms of how people see the Range labor tradition Rukavina is the symbolic striking miner and Bakk the tradesman. That’s all I really was trying to say. Thanks for the clarification.

  3. Anonymous says

    Either of these guys represent wealth creating ideology. Unions don’t create wealth…they help destroy it.

  4. Oh, please. Unions aren’t always perfect but that’s an extreme and inaccurate statement. Collective bargaining improved the lives of millions, lifting scores out of poverty and building a middle class after WWII. Everyone benefits from a large and healthy middle class, including nonunion workers, business owners and tycoons.

  5. Millions made a good living after WWII because the rest of the industrialized world, Japan and Western Europe, was blown up. The world had no place else except the U.S. to buy goods.

    It had nothing to do with unions…Again, unions today continue to make us less competitive with the rest of the working world.

  6. One thing that made me impressed with Bakk’s campaign was the number of phone calls I had received, and all the literature in my mailbox. Whoever is going to get his delegates, will need to work just as hard as his campaign did!

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