A moderate Republican state senator who voted with Democrats against controversial changes to collective bargaining and mining announced he won’t seek re-election.
Sen. Dale Schultz, R-Richland Center, who has served nearly 32 years in the Legislature, including 22 in the Senate, said Monday he has become “deeply frustrated and saddened at what the Legislature has become.”
“It’s a trap of wanting to do good but being coerced and convinced that the only way to accomplish that is to conform with outside pressures and agendas,” Schultz said. “That’s not something in which I’m willing to participate.”
Schultz, 60, said his decision to step down was ultimately driven by a desire to spend more time with family, including his two children.
Had he decided to run again, he would have faced a primary challenge from Rep. Howard Marklein, R-Spring Green.
Schultz said he could have defeated Marklein as a Republican, though he gave serious consideration to running as an independent.
He said he won’t endorse Marklein for the seat representing southwestern Wisconsin.
“Howard made it clear in his announcement challenging me that his top two reasons for doing so were my votes on Act 10 and mining,” Schultz said. “It’s pretty difficult to support someone who’s so out of step with the views of my constituents on major issues they care deeply about.”
Marklein said in a statement that Schultz “has dutifully served his constituents” and “has been a strong advocate for those in our district.”
“I am proud to have worked together with Senator Schultz on a number of issues to better our district,” Marklein said.
Democrat Ernie Wittwer, who worked for 24 years at the Department of Transportation and 13 years at the UW-Madison Transportation Center, has also filed to run for Schultz’s seat. Schultz said he won’t endorse a Democrat and expects other candidates to get in the race.
The district leans Democratic, both before and after political redistricting, according to an analysis by former Republican lobbyist Joe Handrick. Gov. Scott Walker won 53 percent of the district’s vote in 2010, while President Barack Obama won 56.6 percent of the vote in 2012.
Schultz isn’t ruling out running for other public office, including the congressional seat held by Rep. Ron Kind, D-La Crosse, but he hasn’t given that “one ounce of thought.”
Schultz ran for Congress against Kind in 2004, but lost 57-43. The congressional district is more solidly Democratic after redistricting, UW-La Crosse political science professor Joe Heim said.
Former Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson said Schultz would make a great congressman and “would be a very powerful candidate.”
Thompson credited Schultz in the early 1990s for helping approve a four-lane extension of Highway 12 from Middleton to Sauk City.
The project faced opposition from Democratic Dane County legislators.
“He was always there helping me and helping his district get new businesses,” Thompson said. “He was a person always looking out for his district and he did it in a very aggressive way.”
Schultz was elected to the state Assembly in 1982 and won his Senate seat in a 1991 special election. He was Senate Majority Leader from 2004 to 2006.
He has been considered a maverick by many in recent years for his votes against Act 10 and increased voter identification, as well as his work with Sen. Tim Cullen, D-Janesville, on alternative mining legislation.
Earlier in his career, he worked across the aisle to create a state recycling program and the Lower Wisconsin Riverway Board.
“Thoughtful bipartisanship is the way to meet the test of time,” Schultz said Monday in an interview.
Cullen, another moderate who announced he won’t seek re-election, called Schultz the bravest member of the Senate for bucking his party on multiple issues.
“The sad reality is that we seem to have gotten to a point in Madison where representing your district and your conscience takes a back seat to supporting your party,” Cullen said. “Dale would never embrace that philosophy.”
Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, whom Schultz beat out for Senate Majority Leader in 2004, credited Schultz’s leadership on agriculture, insurance and rural issues, as well as the creation of WisconsinEye, which broadcasts legislative sessions and other public-interest events.
“When Senator Schultz departs from the Legislature after three decades of public service, he will take with him a wealth of institutional knowledge that will be hard to replace,” Fitzgerald said.