Senate Democrat leadership coup results in Susan Kent as DFL Senate leader

Sen. Tom Bakk, a relative moderate on issues like gun control and mining, wasn’t liberal enough for much of the DFL Senate caucus and activist base.

Susan Kent

Two weeks before the legislative session begins, the Minnesota Democrat Party has ditched Tom Bakk, an Iron Range Democrat. Instead, Susan Kent from Woodbury—more liberal than Bakk on several issues—was picked to lead the 32-member Minnesota Democrat caucus. 

Democrats hope that picking Kent over Bakk will help the DFL take the Minnesota Senate from the Republicans in November. Right now, the Republicans have a thin 35-32 Senate majority. 

After successfully launching a coup against Bakk at the St. Paul Carpenters Union Hall, where the Senate caucus decision was made, Susan Kent called it her “privilege” to be the new DFL minority leader.

“This is an important year, we have a lot of important issues facing Minnesotans and we are committed to working hard to deliver for those people in our communities and to have a successful election in November,” said Sen. Susan Kent.

Kent marks a shift for Minnesota Democrats. Sen. Tom Bakk, a relative moderate on issues like gun control and mining, wasn’t liberal enough for much of the DFL Senate caucus and activist base. Bakk is also one of the few remaining DFL legislators from greater Minnesota. While much has been made of the DFL dominating the suburbs in the 2018 election, the DFL continued to lose seats in greater Minnesota. 

Some Democrats worry that the DFL, with the ousting of Bakk, is giving up on winning races in greater Minnesota. But the GOP hasn’t abandoned the suburbs just yet. Much of those suburban DFL seats were gained in a midterm election that typically sees the party of the sitting president lose swing state and congressional races.

Kent herself will face a tough re-election in November. Her Woodbury seat was won by only 600 votes in 2016. This year, former Woodbury mayor and Republican gubernatorial candidate, Mary Giuliani Stephens, has announced she will run against Bakk for the Woodbury-area Senate seat.