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Cullen sees bipartisan opportunity

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FRANK J. SCHULTZ
December 31, 2010
— The new state senator representing much of Rock County said he has talked to Gov.-elect Scott Walker and hopes to support Walkers’ initiatives to improve the economy.

That might come as a startling statement because Walker is the leader of the Republicans, and Sen.-elect Tim Cullen is a Democrat.


Cullen said he has talked to Walker three times since the elections, once in person. His message: Walker stands to gain if he passes his major initiatives with bipartisan support.


Walker agreed that bipartisanship is a worthy goal, Cullen said, and that’s the answer Cullen expected.


“But I’ll take him at his word,” Cullen said. “My No. 1 job, as I see it, is to help the economic development of Rock County, and I said if there are some projects we can work on together, I would seriously consider voting for his budget.”


Longtime political observer and UW-Whitewater professor emeritus John Kozlowicz noted that Cullen has talked of bringing civility and compromise back to the Legislature.


That’s laudable, but it may not be realistic to expect his Democratic colleagues to go along with the Republicans’ economic development proposals, Kozlowicz said.


“To me, the real question is, can Tim bring any other votes with him?” Kozlowicz said.


“I think it’s a good goal, but I’m not overly optimistic that he’s going to be able to do a whole lot,” Kozlowicz said. “In some ways, I’d be surprised if some of the Republican leadership would want him taking some of their glory. I mean, they already have the votes to get their things through.”


Cullen argues that bipartisanship pays off. He noted President Obama’s recent political difficulties, which he said stem from the passage of his major initiatives with only Democratic votes.


You can argue who was at fault for failing to gain Republican support in Washington, but broader support would have made a difference for Obama, Cullen said.


Cullen said he would even back Walker’s plan to lower taxes on businesses—if Cullen likes the details. The state deficit is Cullen’s No. 2 priority, so the numbers would have to be appealing, he said.


Cullen said he also could support Walker in overhauling the Milwaukee Public Schools, perhaps turning control over to the mayor, or to a handful of people for three or four years with a mandate for change.


Or maybe carving the mega-district into smaller districts.


“Any reform is worth trying. The status quo is the worst possible thing to do in Milwaukee,” Cullen said.


But when it comes to issues on the social conservatives’ agenda, Cullen said, he expects he and Walker will not agree.


Another difference between Cullen and Walker: Cullen focuses unabashedly on his district, which covers most of Rock County and the northeastern corner of Walworth County.


Cullen wants to move parts of state government out of Madison and relocate them to Rock County.


Rock County taxpayers send their dollars to Madison, where government spending has kept unemployment the lowest in the state, Cullen noted. Why not, when an agency is looking for new digs, shouldn’t those digs be located in a populous area where unemployment is running rampant?


There was a day, before the telephone was invented, that state agencies had to be close to the governor, Cullen said, but modern communications allow workers to collaborate and get the job done even though they aren’t working in the same place.


As for helping his political enemy, Cullen doesn’t see it that way. Rather, if Walker succeeds in turning the economy around, that’s good for Wisconsin and for Cullen’s constituents.


“I just look forward to working with him. I think he has the skills to be a successful governor,” Cullen said.



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