State Sen. Tim Cullen won't seek re-election

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Frank Schultz
Thursday, September 5, 2013

MADISON—At least three possible contenders said “maybe” when asked Thursday whether they might run to take over Wisconsin's 15th Senate District seat, and they might be just the tip of the iceberg.

Sen. Tim Cullen announced Thursday he won't run for re-election in 2014.

Rep. Andy Jorgensen, D-Fort Atkinson; Rep. Janis Ringhand, D-Evansville; and businessman Rick Richard, a Republican who ran for the seat in 2010, all indicated they would consider running to replace Cullen.

“First, I wish Sen. Cullen well and thank him for his service to the state. I don't have any concrete plans at the moment, but it's certainly a conversation I would like to have with my family, friends and supporters,” Richard said.

 Richard, like Cullen, lives in the town of Janesville. Richard in April was appointed to fill an unexpired term on the Rock County Board.

“I'm strongly considering it, but no decision has been made at this time,” Jorgensen said. “And today is Sen. Cullen's day.”

Ringhand said the announcement surprised her, so she had not given it serious thought, “but if it's an open seat, I certainly may consider it.”

Jorgensen said he has valued Cullen's counsel, something echoed by the third Assembly representative in Cullen's district, Rep. Deb Kolste, D-Janesville.

“He has been the best mentor,” Kolste said.

She gave a firm, “No,” when asked about running for Senate.

“He taught me in the beginning, 'Don't be about small politics. Be about good ideas, and don't be punitive in your legislation,'” Kolste said.

Cullen practiced what he preached when he was chairman of a special Senate committee on mining, taking the stand that mining would happen and focusing on how to do it in the most environmentally sound way, Kolste said.

Tim Lindau, chairman of the Rock County Republican Party, said he hadn't talked to anyone about running for Senate, but he noted Joe Knilans, who formerly held Kolste's Assembly seat, and Evan Wynn, a former assemblyman from Whitewater, would have to be considered.

Rock County Democratic Party Chairman Mike Southers noted as potential candidates the three Democratic Assembly members who represent parts of the 15th District—Jorgensen, Kolste and Ringhand. He also mentioned the three who lost to Kolste in the Democratic primary last year—Janesville City Council member Sam Liebert, former councilman Yuri Rashkin and Janesville School Board member Kevin Murray.

Both party chairmen noted there might be others in business or other sectors who also might decide to run.

Cullen dropped no names. He told The Gazette he made his announcement early so others who might be interested would have time to think about it.

Candidates can start circulating nomination papers in April.

“I am confident the people of the 15th Senate District will elect a wonderful person to replace me,” Cullen said in a statement.

Cullen's middle-of-the-road politics rankled his party's leaders at times, but that did not stop him from reaching across the aisle.

He also served as a state senator in the 1970s and '80s and often talked of returning to the days when it was normal for legislators of both parties to be friends, which Cullen believed could lead to good lawmaking.

Cullen failed in that quest, and he indicated Thursday that the political climate at the Capitol played a role in his decision.

“I am not proud of or pleased by the fundamental conclusion I have reached: that I can make a bigger difference in my community as a private citizen than I can in the ugly political environment we see now in Wisconsin government,” Cullen said in a statement.

Cullen said he plans to get involved in local issues he cares about. He plans to fundraise and work more closely with two local nonprofits he founded, the Cullen Government Internship Program and the Janesville Multicultural Teacher Opportunities Scholarship Fund. He said he would work for Healthnet, the free clinic in Janesville.

Cullen said he also wants to start a foundation that would address the problem of poor youths who don't get the encouragement and discipline they need to succeed in school.

Cullen said it will be easier to raise money for his causes when he's not bound by the restrictions of being a senator. 

Cullen, 69, said he is in good health for a man of his age. He noted he has 16 more months as a state senator, and he plans to serve out his term.

Cullen said that in his remaining time as senator one of his top issues will be legislative redistricting. Both parties have used the process to redraw districts to their benefit. Cullen said he plans an announcement next week on the topic.

Kolste said she is not surprised Cullen plans to continue his public service after he becomes a private citizen. As for the Legislature, she said, “When Senator Cullen leaves, there will be one less voice of reason.''

Among those issuing accolades for Cullen on Thursday was one Republican, Sen. Dale Schultz of Richland Center, who had worked with Cullen on several issues.

“There's a deep hunger in Wisconsin for true statesmen, and Tim is one of the few,” Schultz said.

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