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Bakk out of governor race

Don Davis/State Capitol Bureau Sen. Tom Bakk of Cook, left, listens to introductions of nearly 20 candidates, Republicans and Democrats, at an early-2010 governor forum. Bakk, a Democrat, dropped out of the race Saturday.

ST. PAUL -- The Minnesota Democratic governor race is a bit less crowded today after state Sen. Tom Bakk dropped out.

The Cook senator said Saturday he did not think he could get the required 60 percent of the state convention delegates to win the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party's endorsement. He said he will turn his full attention to his job as Senate Tax Committee chairman.

"Our campaign had the delegates to be a factor at the convention, but after much reflection I did not think we could reach the 60 percent needed for endorsement," Bakk told St. Louis County DFL convention delegates in Duluth. "Faced with a decision of spending the next month working to earn delegate support or focusing entirely on the immediate problems Minnesota is facing, I've chosen the latter."

As tax chairman, he will play a key role as the state works to get out of a budget deficit.

Ten candidates remain in the hotly contested DFL contest, with House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher and Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak considered frontrunners for endorsement by state delegates at the late-April DFL state convention in Duluth.

However, former U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton is not trying to get the endorsement and says he will challenge the endorsed candidate in an Aug. 10 primary election. Former state Rep. Matt Entenza also may challenge the convention's pick and Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner plans a primary run.

Others in the race are state Sen. John Marty, little-known Felix Montez, state Rep. Tom Rukavina, artist Ole Savior and state Rep. Paul Thissen.

A half dozen Republicans also are running.

Other Democratic candidates praised Bakk Saturday.

"For 15 years, Tom Bakk has faithfully served Minnesota and his district in the state Legislature," Entenza said "His contributions to the governor's race also have been many, most importantly, being a leader on 'jobs, jobs, jobs.'"

Also at the Duluth convention, Rybak said he has enjoyed traveling the state to take part in forums with Bakk.

"Sen. Bakk's passion on the campaign trail - and at the Capitol - has been jobs, jobs, jobs," Rybak said. "Personally and professionally, Sen. Bakk knows this issue better than almost anyone, and he has been a consistent and forceful advocate for the urgent need to put people back to work and create real prosperity for Minnesotans. Sen. Bakk has also consistently told the truth about the mess our state budget is in, even when it isn't popular or easy to hear."

Bakk, who said he is not endorsing another candidate, has been senator since 2003, after serving in the House eight years.

As tax chairman, he is one of the top senators in fiscal matters. He lost an attempt to become majority leader, the top Senate position, to Minneapolis' Larry Pogemiller three years ago.

Bakk represents the state's largest Senate district, ranging from part of northern Duluth to sparsely populated areas of St. Louis, Lake and Cook counties. He plans to seek re-election to the Senate.

The 55-year-old senator lives on Lake Vermilion. He was a long-time carpenter and became business manager for a carpenters' union.

"As a carpenter who ran out of unemployment in the 1980s, I understand the stress today's unemployed Minnesotans face," Bakk said at Saturday's Duluth convention. "Every Friday in 2010, more than 200,000 Minnesotans received an unemployment check. A state record of 240,398 unemployment checks were issued Jan. 9 and we've reached a point where almost 500 people a week are receiving their last check."

Running for governor, crossing the state seeking delegates, has made him a stronger senator, Bakk said.

 "I've decided to continue to focus my energies on the most immediate needs of the state - namely balancing the state budget in as fair and sensible a way as possible and putting in place policies that will restart our stalled economy," Bakk said.

Outside observers often said Bakk was a sensible candidate who did not always say things that would endear him to DFL delegates.

For instance, he criticized Dayton's oft-stated plan to fix the budget deficit by raising taxes on the rich, a popular Democratic strategy. Bakk said there are not enough rich Minnesotans to plug the entire gap, so other measures would be needed.

Earlier this month, Bakk suggested putting a sales tax on clothing. While that has little chance of passing the Legislature, and Gov. Tim Pawlenty said he would veto it, the proposal showed Bakk's willingness to take political risks.

Davis reports for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Daily Globe.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.