Cullen casts off caucus
MADISON Sen. Tim Cullen, D-Janesville, announced Tuesday he will no longer be part of the Senate Democratic Caucus and might bolt from the party to become an independent.
Cullen's announcement followed a snub by Senate Majority Leader Mark Miller, who did not name Cullen to any committee leadership posts. In an even more pronounced rejection of Cullen, Miller did not name the veteran lawmaker to any committees, even as a member.
"Sen. Miller's decisions are an insult to me and people of the 15th Senate District," Cullen said Tuesday in a letter emailed to members of the Senate Democratic Caucus. "I came back to Madison to do what I could to help the Rock County area recover and make a difference on issues where I have some knowledge based on my background—20 years in the private health care industry, experience on the Janesville School Board and service as secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Health and Social Services."
In a statement released Tuesday, Miller said he was disappointed in Cullen's decision.
"Sen. Cullen turned down the chairmanship of the Committee on Small Business Development and Tourism," Miller said. "He told me that if that was the committee offered to him, he would rather chair no committee at all. It was an important committee as small business is the economic engine for Wisconsin."
After Cullen rejected the committee chairmanship, Miller eliminated the committee and folded small business and tourism into other, separate committees.
The importance of small business was the only thing Cullen and Miller agreed on Tuesday.
"Yes, economic development and tourism are two very important economic segments of Wisconsin's economy," Cullen said. "But there is an important distinction to be made between the importance of these segments of the economy and the importance of this committee.
"Historically, this committee has been irrelevant," Cullen said. "Significant legislation on small business comes out of the Economic Development Committee or the Joint Committee on Finance. Important legislation affecting tourism historically comes out of the Joint Committee on Finance."
Besides being unsuited and unrelated to his experience and background, the Small Business and Tourism Committee historically has been little more than an opportunity for a senator to say he or she was a committee chairman, Cullen said.
"I asked that I be assigned to chair health or education," Cullen said. "I had to tell him what I thought would be a good fit for me because he never asked. We talked about some other opportunities, but he said the press was waiting for the list and he could not wait for a meeting we had scheduled to talk."
Cullen provided the following timetable regarding his discussions with Miller:
-- July 12: "Sen. Miller called me and said he wanted me to chair the Small Business and Tourism Committee. I told him that committee was not a good fit with my background and experience. We agreed to meet July 16."
-- July 16: "His staff called me on July 16 to set up a meeting for July 19. Two hours after his staff person called me on July 16, Sen. Miller called and said he could not wait until July 19 because the press wanted the list. He said I had to take it or leave it. I told him I could not accept his assignment."
-- July 19: "We met for 40 minutes on that Thursday. I made my case for chairing health or education. We also discussed openings on the Building Commission and Transportation Projects Commission. He left the meeting saying he would give it some thought."
-- July 21: "He called me on Saturday to tell me there would be no changes. That was the end of it."
Cullen said he does not know why Miller made the decisions he did.
"It's in Sen. Miller's mind why he did what he did," Cullen said. "I don't know who he thought this would benefit."
Cullen served as Senate majority leader during his first stint in the Senate from 1975 to 1987. He served in the leadership position from 1982 until he left in 1987 to become secretary of the state's largest agency, the state Department of Health and Social Services under Gov. Tommy Thompson.
Cullen worked in the private sector health care industry from 1988 to 2008, when he retired as a senior vice president of WellPoint, the second-largest health insurance company in the nation.
"Sen. Miller has made clear that he does not value or need my presence in Senate committee leadership and, quite obviously, in the Senate Democratic Caucus," Cullen said in his letter. "He has made his decision, and now I will make mine.
"As of the sending of this email, I am no longer a member of the Senate Democratic Caucus," he said. "I will decide over the next few days or weeks whether to become an independent. I will not become a Republican."
Democrats and Republicans in both the Senate and Assembly meet to discuss strategy on pending legislation and other legislative matters. The groups are called caucuses—one for each party in the Senate and Assembly. The members of each caucus often agree to act as a unified group when they move to the floor for votes.
Outside the caucus, Cullen could vote independently of the Senate Democrats and would not be bound by any caucus decisions.
"This entire episode makes clear to me that Sen. Miller has no time for my independent ideas and my support of bipartisan solutions to the state's problems," Cullen said.
Cullen said his upcoming decision would not affect his future political plans.
"I plan to run for re-election in 2012 as far as anyone can make plans more than two years out," Cullen said. "Either way, I would run as a Democrat or as an independent.
"I'll be talking to people in my district for guidance on my future political affiliation," he said. "For example, I'll be at the Rock County 4-H Fair, and I look forward to meeting constituents and hearing what they think."