Bakk In Worthington

I knew I had a 9 a.m. appointment this morning, but I didn’t expect anything to come of it. After all, politicians as a species are notorious latecomers, and the weather outside was frightful to say the least.

But Tom Bakk surprised me. He and his aide were right on time.

Of course, it helped that Bakk — a state senator from Cook who is seeking the DFL’s nomination for governor — stayed right here in Worthington Wednesday night, at the AmericInn. I didn’t know that when he arrived at the Globe, but when he told me I guess I wasn’t all that surprised he was able to complete a journey of a mere few blocks.

Bakk is in the early stages of a much greater journey in terms of the gubernatorial race. He faces of myriad of challengers — including such well-financed candidates like former U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton and former Minnesota House Minority Leader Matt Entenza — but Bakk carries a confident demeanor with a hint of the everyman quality that helped buoy Tim Walz to success in 2006.

Whoever wins the Minnesota governor’s race in November will be replacing two-termer Tim Pawlenty, who at this juncture seems a near-certain presidential candidate in 2012. Bakk, unsurprisingly for a DFLer, has little trouble differentiating himself from Pawlenty.

“I served with him eight years in the House and seven years with him as governor, and I would describe him as a tough negotiator but a poor one,” Bakk said. “He’s got this negotiating attitude that everything has to be his way and no one else get anything, and it’s created an intensely partisan attitude in the Capitol.”

I had visited over the phone with Bakk back in early November, when he was calling for a special session during which bonding provisions that would put a timely start to springtime construction — and add what he said would be numerous new jobs — would be passed.

“With Minnesota architects there is 47 percent unemployment, and in the building and construction trades there’s 50 percent unemployment,” Bakk said. "But he (Pawlenty) called the idea silly. … Now he’s decided he wants to codify his school aid shift in law. I would argue the economy in Minnesota badly needs some employment. If we were going to go into special session, why don’t we at least go and pass some things we agree on?”

Bakk continues to maintain that his experience with the state tax code — he chairs the Senate’s Tax Committee — makes him a strong candidate for governor. He also cites his strong leadership traits, which include a strong desire to put partisanship aside whenever possible.

“This is the time for a problem solver, because we’ve got deep challenges in Minnesota,” said Bakk, a carpenter by profession.

“Maybe your occupation frames who you are,” he added. "As a carpenter … you need a cooperative attitude, and I think just from an occupational standpoint, that’s who I am. We need a governor who needs to set a tone of cooperation.”

Bakk said his campaign, first and foremost, is about “jobs, jobs, jobs,” with the primary reason being that “they’re the most important thing to families.” He said he is well aware the next governor is going to have to make a number of potentially unpopular decisions, but that a statewide “conversation” about how to stimulate the economy — he cited his reaching out to the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce as one example, suggesting a tax exemption for businesses on capital equipment purchases in exchange for a revenue increase in some other area.

“I don’t think we should mislead people … we’re not going to just raise taxes enough to solve the budget deficit, and we’re not going to cut enough to solve it.

“The business community is going to have to accept that Tim Pawlenty has left this state,” he continued. “I think it’s a big mistake for the business community to sit on their hands and wait for him to ride out of town.”

Bakk added that Minnesota has a number of competitive disadvantages — weather such as today’s is one notable example, he stated — but still has managed to grow 19 Fortune 500 companies, the most in the U.S. per capita.

“We have one very strong competitive advantage, and that’s the workforce. People get that way because of education,” he said.

“They (Fortune 500 businesses, and others) are only going to expand here if they can find the qualified workforce. If we’re not going to invest in education so people can develop to their potential, is Medtronic or any of the other upstart companies going to expand here?”

And with that, Bakk and his political director, Ellen Perrault, bid farewell and opted to pursue a more immediate challenge — getting to Albert Lea for a noon meeting. Moments later, an e-mail from the Minnesota Department of Transportation announced I-90 was closed from Fairmont west. Time will tell if Bakk has more success in his campaign than his winter-weather travels.