Cullen says he would run for governor in recall election
He wants to add “governor” to the list.
Cullen, a senator from Janesville, on Friday said he wants to be the Democratic candidate if an effort to recall Gov. Scott Walker is successful.
“I think I have credentials to be governor,” Cullen said. “I have executive experience in the public and private sectors. I believe I offer a resume where people can come forward and trust me as their governor.”
United Wisconsin, the statewide organization working for the recalls of Walker and Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, this week announced it has gathered more than 300,000 signatures in the first two weeks of the 60-day effort. More than 540,000 signatures are needed to trigger a recall election.
Robert Allen of AFSCME 24, the Wisconsin State Employees Union, said his group is not considering candidates at this time.
“We’re just as an organization focused on recalls now, not so much on what comes next,” Allen said. “Right now, it’s just a pretty big endeavor to get signatures.”
Allen said a primary election could give voters choices, but Cullen thinks the Democratic Party might push to support one candidate.
“I hope it’s me,” he said.
Cullen, 67, of 3711 N. Spring Hill Drive, Janesville, just finished the first year of his four-year Senate term. When Cullen was running for that seat, he set a limit on the money his campaign would accept. On Friday, he said he was not ready to make the same commitment for a race for governor.
Cullen said he would need help to get the money to run a statewide race.
“I readily acknowledge I don’t have statewide name recognition,” Cullen said. “And I don’t have a large chunk of money.”
Cullen got national attention—both positive and negative—in February as one of 14 Democratic senators who left Wisconsin to delay a vote on Walker’s budget-repair bill, which drastically reduced collective bargaining rights for most public workers.
Since then, more than one person has approached Cullen and said he or she was upset that he left the state, Cullen said. He defends the 14 senators by saying they took an “extraordinary” action to give the public time to understand the 140-page bill.
“That was the only vehicle to slow that bill down,” Cullen said. “The really extraordinary thing was to do all that for a budget-repair bill.”
Walker is the eighth governor with whom Cullen has worked. Cullen’s first elected role was on the Janesville City Council from 1970 to 1971.
He then worked as ombudsman for Rep. Les Aspin, D-Wis. In 1974, Cullen was elected to the state Senate and was the majority leader from 1982 until he resigned in 1987.
That year, Gov. Tommy Thompson appointed Cullen secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Health and Social Services. In 1988, he began work at Wellpoint Inc., the parent company of Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield, where he worked until 2007.
Cullen served on the Janesville School Board from 2007 to 2010. Although that was a nonpartisan position, Cullen said it demonstrated his ability to work with people of different political opinions. Legislation is more effectively written and passed when conservatives and liberals work together, he said.
“I think it’s better for the state if the big issues are decided in a bipartisan way,” he said.
Cullen said he is in good health and ready to take on the rigors of a campaign and a term as governor. He was treated for prostate cancer in 2009 and had open-heart surgery in 2007. He also had a rare case of blood poisoning in 2010, he said.
“I’m completely healthy,” Cullen said. “It slowed me up for a while, but I am completely fine now. I feel great.”
Asked if he would try for a second term if elected, Cullen said he would decide when the time was closer. He would base the decision on his success in office, Cullen said.
“No (Wisconsin) governor would have ever come to office under these circumstances,” Cullen said. “The public’s going to want me to prove they made the right choice.”