Cullen feeling heat after bolting caucus

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Frank Schultz
Thursday, July 26, 2012

— Sen. Tim Cullen of Janesville was bashed from the left and the right after he announced Tuesday that he is leaving the state Senate Democratic Caucus.

Cullen is considering whether to continue to be a Democrat or become an independent.

A right-wing radio talk-show host in Milwaukee, Charlie Sykes, attacked Cullen on Wednesday. Meanwhile, the advocacy group One Wisconsin Now, attacked from the left.

Cullen said Wednesday the attacks from both sides are a sign that he's doing something right.

As for his constituents in the 15th Senate District, Cullen said they won't be disadvantaged by his bolting from the caucus.

"I don't think it'll hurt at all. It's yet to be known how much it helps. I still have lots of colleagues who have confidence in me in both parties," Cullen said.

Cullen took the drastic step of leaving the caucus after the Senate majority leader, Mark Miller, offered what Cullen considered only a meaningless committee chairmanship.

Miller awarded every other Democratic senator a committee leadership position. Cullen said that insulted him and his constituents.

The Democrats gained control of the Senate as the result of victories in the recent Senate recall elections.

Cullen said he gave Miller numerous chances to rectify the situation before going public Tuesday, but Miller would not budge, and no caucus member came to his defense.

Cullen said he is hearing now from Democratic senators, who are saying, "Oh my gosh, this is awful."

"My answer is, 'Where were you the last seven days?'" Cullen said.

At least one senator hopes Cullen will rejoin the caucus.

Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, said he hopes Miller and Cullen will work things out.

"Hopefully, Sen. Miller will do that, and Tim will be able to do that," Erpenbach said. "If you're the leader of a caucus, Tim Cullen's the kind of guy you want on your team.

"This move doesn't change what he stands for, what he believes in, how he's going to vote, anything like that," Erpenbach added. "He's a very talented guy. He's very smart, and our caucus needs him."

Erpenbach's name came up in a statement issued Tuesday by One Wisconsin Now, a progressive advocacy group. The organization's executive director, Scot Ross, accused Cullen of trying to take away Erpenbach's chairmanship of the health committee and lashed out at Cullen, saying in part:

"One wonders on what planet Tim Cullen resides, where he thought the unprecedented uprising against (Gov.) Scott Walker's attacks on Wisconsin was done to put a millionaire, 20-year insurance company executive and opponent of ObamaCare in charge of the committee overseeing health care reform in the state Senate."

Erpenbach on Wednesday said the accusation is not true and that he called Ross to tell him so.

Cullen said the One Wisconsin Now statement was full of falsehoods. Cullen said he has not opposed ObamaCare and believes the president has gone farther toward the worthy goal of health coverage for all than anyone since President Teddy Roosevelt.

"I look at that stuff and say, 'These are people who are paid to throw flames.' It's not anybody that I relate to," Cullen said.

Cullen said he will take up to several weeks to decide his political direction. He is consulting with friends, relatives and will be at the Rock County 4-H Fair late Thursday and Friday afternoons to hear from constituents.

Cullen said he has always stood on the walkway in front of the Democratic tent at the fair, and he intends to continue that practice. He's still a Democrat, he said.

He said he will decide well before the Nov. 6 elections whether to change that status.

Cullen is not up for re-election until 2014.

Last updated: 5:08 pm Tuesday, August 27, 2013

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