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Cullen sees way to end senators' hideout

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FRANK J. SCHULTZ
February 22, 2011

State Sen. Tim Cullen of Janesville spoke from his "undisclosed location in northern Illinois" on Monday, saying he has proposed a way out of the stalemate that has kept him and other Democrats out of the Senate chamber for five days.


Cullen is one of the 14 Democratic senators who have refused to join their Republican colleagues in the Senate. Their move has stalled Gov. Scott Walker's budget repair bill.


The 33-member Senate needs a quorum of 20 to vote on fiscal matters. The Republicans have a majority of only 19, so they need at least one Democrat present to vote on Walker's bill.


The senators can be compelled by the Wisconsin State Patrol to return to the Senate only when the Senate is in session, and it wasn't on Saturday, so Cullen was at home and went to a movie with his wife, he said. He also took in his grandson's basketball game.


Cullen did not sound pleased at the prospect of staying away for a long time. He has suggested a way out that might save face for both sides, he said.


Cullen recalled a tactic used by Gov. Tony Earl in 1983 when it was the Democrats, not the Republicans, who controlled the lawmaking process.


Cullen was one of the two Democrats who were appointed along with two Republican leaders to resolve a funding crisis for the state's unemployment compensation fund.


The committee came up with a compromise that made neither side happy: an increase in business taxes along with a freeze on unemployment benefits. Earl accepted the deal, and it was passed.


Walker could do something similar, Cullen said.


Cullen said he suggested the process to a couple of Republicans on Monday. He said he has been talking to colleagues across the aisle and had a talk with Walker for 30 to 45 minutes Saturday.


Cullen said he is keeping his whereabouts secret because the senators have reason to believe there are groups who are looking for them "and want to hassle us."


There's actually a Facebook page that encourages people to report tips about where the senators might be.


Cullen said most but not all the senators are together. Others are in other locations in Illinois. He said there's not a lot of leisure time.


"No cards. No alcohol. No gambling," he said.


Cullen said life has been much like it would be in Madison: He's taking calls from constituents, the news media and his office. The only difference is he's not in the Senate chamber, he said.


Cullen said the senators were to meet again Monday night to discuss their situation.


"Right now, everybody is solid. I don't think anybody wants to be the one person who provides the 20th vote," Cullen said. "But we are not oblivious to political opinion, and we shouldn't be oblivious to it. I think there's a shelf life to staying here. ...I didn't run for Senate to spend the rest of my life in Illinois."


Cullen said he's heard some blunt talk from constituents as well as encouragement.


"I think the 15th District and the state itself is split down the middle on this," he said.



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