Tim Cullen weighs run for Wisconsin governor

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Associated Press
Thursday, March 9, 2017

MADISON—A retired Wisconsin state senator who was one of the 14 Democrats who fled to Illinois in an attempt to block Gov. Scott Walker's anti-union legislation said Thursday he's on track for a run to challenge the incumbent Republican.

Tim Cullen, town of Janesville, has a long career in local and state politics behind him. He told The Gazette last July that he was exploring a run for governor and drew inspiration from the presidential campaign of fellow septuagenarian Bernie Sanders.

Cullen has been traveling the state for months with the intent of running for governor in 2018. He has been the most public about his desire to run against Walker, although several other Democrats are also considering it.

Cullen, 73, told The Associated Press on Thursday "I don't know" of any reason that would stop him from getting into the race at this point. Cullen said he was working on lining up the logistics of a campaign, including launching a website and hiring staff, so he could announce it sometime before the end of April.

Cullen's comments drew derision from Walker's campaign spokesman Joe Fadness.

"Headquarters in Rockford?" he asked in a message on Twitter.

Cullen doesn't think much of Walker, either. Cullen wrote a memoir in 2015 in which he calls Walker the worst governor in 65 years.

Cullen and 13 other Democrats went to Rockford, just across the border from Wisconsin in Illinois, in an ultimately vain attempt to stop a vote in 2011 on Walker's proposal effectively ending collective bargaining for most public workers. Cullen and others remained in Illinois for three weeks before Republicans passed the bill, known as Act 10.

Cullen has said the move delayed action, giving people time to discuss the legislation

Cullen's book, “Ringside Seat: Wisconsin Politics, the 1970s to Scott Walker,” describes Cullen's efforts to forge a compromise with Walker while Cullen was in Illinois.

Cullen has been outspoken about the need of Democrats to do a better job reaching out to rural Wisconsin residents who helped fuel Republican victories in the November election. Those rural voters, along with a lack of enthusiasm from urban Democrats, were vital to President Donald Trump being the first Republican presidential candidate since Ronald Reagan in 1984 to carry Wisconsin.

Cullen was an executive for Blue Cross and Blue Shield United of Wisconsin from 1988 to 2007, when won a three-year term on the Janesville School Board.

Cullen has been involved in philanthropic efforts in Janesville, notably a private fund that pays college tuition for local students who are black, Latino or other minorities, on the condition that they commit to teach in the Janesville School District.

Cullen retired from the Senate after one term, in 2015. He was previously in the Senate between 1975 and 1987, five of those years as majority leader.

Cullen was head of the state Department of Health and Family Services under Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson for one year, leaving in 1988 to join Blue Cross Blue Shield.

Cullen has toured the state with former Republican Sen. Dale Schultz to speak about the need for more bipartisanship to solve the state's problems. That moderate approach could be a liability for him in a Democratic primary for governor, when turnout among more partisan party stalwarts is high.

Cullen described his politics in his book: “I am pretty liberal on just about every issue. The difference between me and some other people who are liberal is that I'm willing to negotiate something less than what I'd really like to have, and give the other side something. I believe it's better to get some of what you want and reach an agreement.”

A number of other Democrats are also considering a run, but no one has officially announced. They include state U.S. Rep. Ron Kind of La Crosse, Sen. Kathleen Vinehout of Alma, Dane County Executive Joe Parisi, state Rep. Dana Wachs of Eau Claire and Jefferson County District Attorney Susan Happ.

Kind last month refused to rule out a possible run. Walker, in a fundraising email sent Tuesday, singled out Kind as a possible candidate, calling him a "liberal Washington insider."

Walker hasn't officially announced his plans to run again, but he's raising money and making all the moves necessary to launch his bid for a third term sometime this summer.

Gazette reporter Frank Schultz contributed to this story.

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