Minnesota state Sen. Susan Kent has defeated longtime Sen. Tom Bakk in an election for the leadership of the DFL Senate caucus.
The two-term member from Woodbury was elected Senate DFL Minority Leader on Saturday, toppling longtime Iron Range leader to become the first woman ever to lead the caucus.
The Star Tribune reports the 32-member caucus is signaling a shift in direction for the party less than two weeks before the legislative session convenes. They're betting on a fresh face to maneuver in negotiations with DFL Gov. Tim Walz, the DFL-led House and Republicans in control of the Senate in a year where a bonding bill and a projected $1.3 billion budget surplus are on the table.
They're also hoping she can lead them into victory in the 2020 election. Democrats are trying to reclaim power from Republicans who hold a narrow 35-32 Senate majority.
Senators debated the leadership change for nearly six hours in a closed-door meeting in the Carpenter's Union Hall in St. Paul. Neither Kent nor Bakk took questions after the vote but Kent called it her "privilege" to be the new leader.
Kent represents a growing number of urban and suburban members of the caucus who were increasingly at odds with Bakk on issues such as mining and gun control. But some DFLers fear ousting Bakk could exacerbate a trending shift in power from Democrats to Republicans on the Iron Range, while others are worried the caucus is losing one of its most experienced negotiators and campaigners in leadership.