Remember Pep’s Bake Shop

The Senate Democrats reveal that ‘One Minnesota’ is a PR sham, but we wish it weren’t so.

I detected a certain candor in the political mutiny in which Susan Kent (D-Woodbury) dethroned Tom Bakk (DCook) last month to become the Democrat leader of the Minnesota Senate. In one closed-door vote, the Democrats finally put the lie to the fairytale that they were somehow unified behind a notion of “One Minnesota.”

For several years now, the sleight-of-hand Dems have used that slogan as a shiny political object to distract folks from realizing that Greater Minnesota represents only a voting bloc priority to these urban-oriented Big City liberals. (If you say it often enough, it must be true, right?)

And the presence of Tom Bakk as their leader helped them pull it off. Bakk is an affable former carpenter and union leader from the Iron Range who genuinely believes in One Minnesota. He’s a consistent advocate for Iron Range priorities (jobs), and he understands that the price tag for things like a radical Green New Deal agenda will fall disproportionately on the pocketbooks of rural and blue-collar Minnesotans. He consistently fights for Greater Minnesota, for its fair share of road monies and access to health care, housing and affordable childcare. (If you want to learn more, look at the “War on Greater Minnesota” in the Summer 2019 issue of Thinking Minnesota. Find it at

The trouble for the Dems was that nobody told Bakk he was supposed to be the frontman for a political PR stunt. Far from being just some outstate eye candy for Big Government liberals, Bakk is a skilled legislator who frequently helps thwart proposals from the radical left because of how they affect rural citizens. In the end, frustrated liberals sacked him in favor of Woodbury’s Susan Kent, who they know will provide a reliable rubber stamp for the Big City urban agenda. They put One Minnesota in their back pockets in favor of the Green New Dealers.

I thought about this when I read Isaac Orr’s “Economic Energy,” an analysis of how environmentalists’ efforts to close the Boswell Energy Center would devastate the Iron Range economy (page 40 of this magazine). In addition to his reliable deployment of facts, Isaac also calls attention to people who would be affected by this closing. He interviewed Allison and Laura Collins, the mom and daughter team that runs Pep’s Bake Shop in Virginia. They told him how closing Boswell would put more than miners out of work. It would damage the whole regional economy. Isaac learned that because he went there and talked to them, something the urban enviros would never bother to do.

This all prompts a question I’ve been asking for years. What’s the advantage of concentrating all this political power in St. Paul? Think about it. All the laws, rules and regulations coming from the state are devised, developed, enacted and implemented in an echo chamber of something like 35,000 state employees, most of whom work within three miles of the Capitol. And they all work in the metro area. So why are we surprised when those laws, rules and regulations take on an urban bias?

What if we moved the headquarters of the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission—the organization that oversees the Boswell Energy Center—from St. Paul to Hibbing? Their kids would go to Hibbing schools, they’d sit next to their neighbors at church, they’d follow Bluejacket hockey games in the Hibbing Daily Tribune, and maybe they’d even pop over to Pep’s for baked goodies on a Saturday. At the end of the day, maybe the newly-located PUC staffers would continue to worship at the altar of the Green New Deal, but they’d surely realize the human consequences of some of their actions.

In the same vein, why not relocate the Department of Agriculture to Willmar, in the heart of Minnesota’s ag country; the Department of Health to Rochester, home of the Mayo Clinic; the Department of Employment and Economic Development to Alexandria, where city leaders know as much about job creation as anyone in the state; or the Department of Transportation to Brainerd, closer to where roads matter more than bike paths?

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Not for nothing, we hear that the insurrectionist Kent has already become one of the most politically vulnerable members of the Senate. Mary Giuliani Stephens, the hugely popular mayor of Woodbury, has announced that she will run against Kent, and most observers see her as the favorite to win the race. After Kent loses in November, according to one Capitol veteran, history will place a double asterisk next to her name. One asterisk will commemorate the fact that she was the first-ever female leader of the Senate Democrats; the other will remember that she had the shortest tenure in office.