ST. PAUL —
Bakk and Thissen hail from distinct but important factions of Minnesota's Democratic coalition. Bakk, a retired carpenter and union official from Cook, has deep ties to the labor culture of the Iron Range. Thissen, an attorney, lives in an affluent part of southwest Minneapolis and represents portions of that city and the suburb of Richfield.
The two men also have different styles. The burly and gregarious Bakk is usually good-humored but has been known to display a temper. The lanky Thissen is cool and cerebral and more cautious in public remarks but has shown flashes of sarcasm.
Bakk is "a good Iron Range union thug. I mean that in a good way," said Tom Rukavina, a Democrat retiring after nearly three decades representing the Range in the House.
Bakk, 58, grew up on the shores of Lake Vermilion where his father ran a church camp. His father was also a carpenter, and the younger Bakk learned the trade as a teenager as he helped keep up the camp. After graduating from the University of Minnesota-Duluth, Bakk went to work for U.S. Steel and got involved with the union.
In 1987, Bakk shifted full-time into union administration. "That's where I made the transition to politics," he said.
He was elected to the House in 1994 and often clashed with environmentalists over issues important to mining, logging and recreational interests. Bakk had stints chairing the Tax Committee and served the last two years as minority leader, but always maintained a reputation as a Democrat willing to work with Republicans.
"He has an ability to understand and respect where every member is coming from, the issues that are important to both them and their constituents," said Sen. Dave Senjem, the Rochester Republican whom Bakk is succeeding as majority leader. "He'll differ with you but also have a laugh with you."