The Wisconsin State Journal reports …
State Sen. Tim Cullen, a moderate Democrat from Janesville, broke with his party’s caucus Tuesday, saying he may become an independent over what he felt were political “insults” by the Senate majority leader.
Cullen said he made his decision, announced to the rest of the caucus by email, after Sen. Mark Miller, D-Monona, slighted him with committee assignments. Every senator in the caucus was given at least two committee leadership positions. Cullen has none. …
Cullen said he did not know why he was ignored for leadership positions that appealed to him, but imagined it had to do with his independent nature and track record of working with Republicans on certain issues. …
Cullen said Miller initially offered him what he considered a token committee chairmanship — tourism and small business. He rejected the position and was negotiating with Miller for a more important role when he said the majority leader essentially told him to “take it or leave it.”
“This was not an accident,” Cullen said. “I was not accidentally overlooked. It was blatantly, intentionally, intending to insult me and the people of the 15th (Senate District).”
Cullen said that during his last discussion with Miller, the Democratic leader hung up on him.
Cullen’s possible defection (notice of which you can read here) is more significant than Senate Democrats’ futile gesture of taking over (complete with the waste of taxpayer resources that moving offices takes) a chamber that isn’t scheduled to meet until after the Nov. 6 elections, when there is at least a 50–50 chance control of the Senate will go back to the Republican Party.
Perhaps Cullen thinks he’s going to end up back in the minority party given that the 16 Senate districts (along with, if scheduled in November, the 33rd Senate District, whose Sen. Rich Zipperer (R–Pewaukee) is leaving to become Gov. Scott Walker’s deputy chief of staff) voters will decide upon were created by the Republican-controlled Legislature in 2011. Perhaps Cullen can’t figure out why Miller doesn’t want the former secretary of the state Department of Health and Social Services on Senate health committees. Perhaps Cullen realizes the Democratic Party’s stance on tourism and small business — tax and regulate the hell out of both — and decided he was part of temporary Majority Leader Miller’s ideological purge.
That’s just not my observation; as Lakeshore Laments puts it:
But what it does show is just how ideologically-minded the new Democratic Senate Majority is. For all the talk about “reaching across the aisle” after getting the majority last week, Miller shows in one swift action that he will punish those who do not bow to the party line he is keeping.
For better or worse, Cullen is to Democrats what Dale Schultz is to Republicans, the bridge-maker who annoys the party faithful, but is needed nonetheless.
Miller just threw his bridge-maker out. For all the screaming and name-calling at Schultz, no one in the GOP caucus has ever considered doing that.
What does that say about the new Democratic Majority? Volumes.
Playground Politics adds:
First of all, Miller’s full of garbage. Small business is notoriously one of the worst committee assignments in the Legislature because everything important to small business can (and will be) routed to another committee with overlapping jurisdiction. Health care? To Health. Health insurance? To Insurance or Health. Job training? To workforce development. Tax policy? To Finance. …
Second, could Miller really not keep Cullen happy? As I talked about last week, every Senate committee is like a church potluck of random, unrelated goodies. How hard is it for Miller to say “you know what, let’s work with your interests and see what we can do?” If Miller couldn’t fix this situation it’s because he was choosing not to fix it.
There used to be more variety among the Wisconsin Democratic and Republican parties in past decades. Both parties as late as the early 1980s had former members of the Progressive Party in them — Sens. Clifford “Tiny” Krueger (R–Merrill), Gerald Lorge (R–Bear Creek) and Carl Thompson (D–Stoughton), to name three. This state used to have anti-abortion Democrats. U.S. Sen. William Proxmire (D–Wisconsin) would fit in neither party today. The last libertarian Republican in the Legislature was Sen. Dave Zien (R–Eau Claire); I’m not sure Sen. Frank Lasee (R–De Pere) would fit into that category today, and no one besides Lasee would.
The parties started to narrow in the 1990s, because of then-Senate Majority Leader Chuck Chvala (D–Madison) and then-Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen (R–Brookfield) and their efforts to reinforce party discipline in an era when control of the Legislature shifted back and forth more than once. (Whether that had anything to do with the caucus scandal that saw Chvala and Jensen serve jail time is up for the reader to decide.)
The point of serving in the Legislature is to serve the state generally and your district’s constituents specifically. The interests of your party, as in your party doing better than the other party, should come in third at the highest. Perhaps more Wisconsinites would vote Democrat if their party were not being run by the Madison–Milwaukee axis, since nothing that happens on either end of Interstate 94 benefits the state as a whole these days. (Or arguably any day in the case of the People’s Republic of Madison.)
I hope Cullen does decide to replace the D after his name with an I, and not because I am not a fan of the Ds. I think the plurality of voters who are not hardcore Ds and Rs probably think the Ds and Rs don’t represent them very well. It’s regrettable that Rep. Bob Ziegelbauer (I–Manitowoc) is leaving the Assembly. Republicans haven’t been fans of the work of Sen. Dale Schultz (RINO-Richland Center), but perhaps his 17th Senate District constituents would be better served with an independent Schultz instead of a Republican (In Name Only) Schultz.