Chris Rickert: Cullen's defection refutes party war

2012-07-28T08:00:00Z Chris Rickert: Cullen's defection refutes party warCHRIS RICKERT | Wisconsin State Journal | crickert@madison.com | 608-252-6198 madison.com

"Who can dump on state Sen. 'Turncoat' Tim Cullen the most?" was the name of the game among Democratic party loyalists Tuesday after Cullen decided to leave the Democratic caucus and threaten to become an independent.

By Wednesday, the mood had softened, with various Democratic senators urging Cullen and Senate Majority Leader Mark Miller to make nice and preserve party solidarity only a few weeks after Democrats took back control of the Senate.

By Friday, that's exactly what had happened.

It was a fun ride, if to a meaningless destination: The Senate is not scheduled to be in session until January, after the November elections have likely given it back to Republicans courtesy of their gerrymandered redistricting maps.

But what's important is that Cullen at least temporarily shrugged off the two-party straitjacket that has made just about everyone in Wisconsin a little crazy. Seventeen months of Gov. Scott "divide and conquer" Walker, the Fleeing 14, incessant recall elections and other low lights can do that.

Cullen said his defection was sparked by the "disrespect" shown his constituents by Miller, who didn't assign Cullen to the committees his experience was best suited for — possibly as punishment for his outspoken centrist and bipartisan ways.

"Apparently, I'm not far enough left a Democrat," he told me Wednesday morning.

His detractors said he was being selfish and ignoring the role seniority plays in committee assignments. Cullen was only elected in 2010 (although he served in the Senate from 1974 to 1986, including three stints as majority leader).

Former Democratic state lawmaker and now UW-Milwaukee governmental affairs professor Mordecai Lee on Wednesday said he was "guessing this is about rewarding friends and punishing enemies."

"So apparently Sen. Miller and/or the majority of the Democratic senators are carrying a grudge about his behavior over the last 18 months and wanted to punish him in a way that the message would be clear," he said.

Later that day, though, he said you can probably make his detractors' case as well.

"That there are two different realities to the same thing is common in politics," he said. "Pick your side and here's your reality. MSNBC vs. Fox."

Cullen told me he'd grown tired of the partisanship in Wisconsin politics.

The far left and the far right "like the war," he said, because that's where the contributions that help keep the lawmakers in office come from. But "these political wars are really not of much interest to me."

I'm trying to care less about why Cullen did what he did than the fact that he did it, because there's no denying the political wars are plenty interesting to many of us, myself included.

Perhaps that's because we like to feel like part of a team, or because, unlike real wars, we can fight them from the safety of our Twitter feeds.

But the political war worth fighting is waged by those who value pragmatic policymaking over party loyalty.

Contact Chris Rickert at 608-252-6198 or crickert@madison.com, as well as on Facebook and Twitter (@ChrisRickertWSJ). His column appears Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday.

Copyright 2015 madison.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(9) Comments

  1. scorp
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    scorp - July 28, 2012 5:22 pm
    With all politicians the main concern is their HUGE EGO! The citizens be damned ,what can I get out of this and how will I look to the public .Perfect example of the need for term limits for the ancient egos that must be constantly massaged.Form more committees at the tax payers expense to sooth an over inflated ego. Recall all those fools.
  2. Good Gosh
    Report Abuse
    Good Gosh - July 28, 2012 1:02 pm
    I agree with nan-3. The last thing we need in the legislature is anyone tolerating bullying. I respect Mark Miller immensely, but I am very disappointed that he gave in. Did anyone see which committee is good enough for Cullen, since small businesses and tourism are not held high in his esteem?
  3. nan3
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    nan3 - July 28, 2012 12:49 pm
    Cullen's sense of entitlement makes me sick. And threats should NEVER be given in to, period.
  4. WI_Expat
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    WI_Expat - July 28, 2012 12:19 pm
    All in all, it appears that "solidarity" mantra has been proven to simply be only a propaganda piece for the liberals...especially Senate liberals
  5. RichardSRussell
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    RichardSRussell - July 28, 2012 11:14 am
    Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, ...
     
    Oh, wait, nobody cares.
  6. David Weber
    Report Abuse
    David Weber - July 28, 2012 10:25 am
    I'm pleased that Mark Miller chose not to appoint an insurance executive chair of Health.
  7. Monitor
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    Monitor - July 28, 2012 10:02 am
    I would like to see a number of Republican and Democratic senators become Independent. If any senator was voted into office to be a puppet for their party, that is troubling. If all our senators were to be true to themselves and their constituents, there would be a lot more cooperation and meaningful work getting done.
  8. glenrusswood
    Report Abuse
    glenrusswood - July 28, 2012 9:37 am
    I was really thinking about becoming an independent
    but in the EXTREME backward state that WISC. truly is,
    I began to grasp reality...I already am!
  9. Wis_taxpayer
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    Wis_taxpayer - July 28, 2012 9:03 am
    Funny how the republicans eairlier in the week were claiming victory and name calling the Dems as losers once again. So, I guess if the Dems were losers when Cullen left the caucus, then that would make the Repubs losers once again, as Cullen rejoins the caucus.

    My point is, no one wins or loses, unless they don't all work together for the good of the state.
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