Cullen held the post from 1974 to 1987. He gained a reputation as a tough and talented Democratic politician when the district covered more of Walworth County and less of Rock County.
Cullen, who turns 66 later this month, told The Janesville Gazette on Friday that he’s got the desire, time, energy and health to run again.
Cullen said he still needs to put a campaign organization together, but he figures there’s plenty of time to make a credible run in the November election.
Cullen said he’s a moderate. He believes the political center has largely disappeared in Madison in recent years.
Special interests’ campaign contributions have driven Democrat representatives to the left and the Republicans to the right, Cullen said, and the result is little desire on the part of lawmakers to work together.
Because of that belief, Cullen said he would limit contributions to his campaign to a level well below the $1,000 allowed by law. He hasn’t set that amount yet.
“I want to go to Madison as my own person, and I think that when you take large contributions from individuals or groups, I think it just raises an already high level of cynicism among citizens,” he said.
Cullen’s health might be questioned, but he said he got a clean bill from doctors in November after treatment for prostate cancer. He had open-heart surgery in 2007, but he said he recently returned to the Mayo Clinic for a checkup, and doctors there also gave him a thumbs up.
“They said it couldn’t be better, and that’s the way I feel,” Cullen said.
Cullen said he’s excited to start knocking on doors and introducing himself to voters. He said he will announce formally in about a month.
Cullen has served on the Janesville School Board for the past three years but is not running for re-election in April.
“I think I can come to Madison and bring some more adult-like behavior and hopefully bring the parties a little closer together and have a more moderate state Senate,” he said.
Cullen said political leaders did not ask him to run, but many people have often suggested he run for public office again.
Cullen said he would propose a tax and regulatory reform package, lowering some taxes and “loosening some regulations to make Wisconsin more attractive for companies to stay here or come here.”
Asked if the package also might increases some taxes, he said: “You can’t just drive the state further into debt. I have a lot of ideas. I’ll lay the entire package out in plenty of time for people to dissect it.”
The only other candidate so far is political newcomer and Republican Rick Richard, who, like Cullen, lives in Janesville Township. Richard has been running since last summer.
Richard’s wife, Diedre, is a Janesville School Board member and sits next to Cullen at board meetings.
Richard has made jobs the focus of his campaign. Asked for his response, Cullen said every candidate this year is talking jobs, “and I think people without jobs are getting tired of hearing that.”
Cullen agrees that jobs should be a top priority. He said any effort should resemble the group he was a part of that tried to save the GM plant: a combination of politicians of both parties; federal, state and local government officials; and, most important, private sector representatives.
“I think my year of trying to save GM taught me a lot,” he said. “I’ve learned to know all the players in the county. We trust each other, and I think I know when government can help and when government should stay out of the way. I think as a state senator I can play the role to assist the private sector to re-grow the Rock County economy and bring the jobs back.”
Cullen acknowledged things have changed since he left the Senate more than 20 years ago, but “I think I’m ready to go on Day 1.”
Tim Cullen’s political career
1969: Runs for Janesville City Council, loses.
1970: Wins campaign for Janesville City Council.
1971: Re-elected but resigns to become ombudsman for Rep. Les Aspin, D-Wis.
1974: Resigns from Aspin staff to run as a Democrat for the 15th Senate District seat. He upsets the incumbent Republican by a wide margin.
1978: Wins re-election.
1982: Re-elected. Becomes Senate majority leader, a post he holds through January 1987, building a reputation as one of the most powerful players in state government.
1985: Starts a campaign for U.S. Senate but pulls out.
1986: Re-elected. In December, he sends political shock waves as he announces he will leave the Senate in January to become secretary of Health and Social Services for Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson.
1988: Announces he will leave HSS to become a regional vice president of Blue Cross & Blue Shield United of Wisconsin, running Blue Shield’s regional office in Evansville.
2004: Serves on Gov. Jim Doyle’s 2004 Task Force on Educational Excellence.
2007: Retires as a senior vice president from WellPoint Inc., the parent company of Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield. Wins a three-year term on the Janesville School Board.
2008: Becomes a member of the State Governing Board of Common Cause in Wisconsin, a nonpartisan political reform organization.
2009: Announces he will not run for re-election to school board.
2010: Judy Robson announces she will not run for re-election to the 15th Senate seat. Nine days later, Cullen tells The Janesville Gazette he will run to replace Robson.
Source: Janesville Gazette files