Cullen leaves meeting, returns to Democratic Caucus
JANESVILLE A state senator from Janesville will lead two new committees that focus on the top issue of the day—the economy.
That’s one result of the spat this week between Sen. Tim Cullen and Senate Majority Leader Mark Miller.
An agreement between the two creates two new committees: a standing committee on small business and venture capital and a special committee on mining.
Cullen worked on both those issues during the last legislative session and said he believes he can develop mining and venture-capital bills this summer and fall.
Cullen’s appointments are part of a deal that apparently ends a dispute between him and Miller.
Cullen on Tuesday complained that Miller had refused to appoint him to any significant Senate committee. Cullen announced he would leave the Senate Democratic Caucus and would consider becoming an independent.
Miller and Cullen met for about three hours Friday and then announced the appointments.
Cullen remains a Democrat and rejoins the caucus. He said he was pleased to do so and that he got everything he wanted.
“It really is a workload that fits why I feel I’m up here and gives me a lot of important things to work on this summer and fall,” Cullen said.
The mining and venture-capital bills could be ready for a special session after the Nov. 6 elections or the regular session in January, no matter what party is in power, Cullen said.
If those topics languish, they could get lost while the Legislature focuses on the biennial budget bill in January, Cullen said.
Cullen said he is considering a trip to Minnesota to see how that state balances its mining interests with environmental protection. He also wants to hold meetings with key players around the proposed Gogebic iron mine, including the Bad River tribe, environmentalists and the Army Corps of Engineers.
Cullen referred to a letter issued by Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce this week, which urged no action on a mining bill until after the November elections and the Republicans take back control of the Senate.
Cullen said he’s ready to hear from the business lobby group, as well.
Cullen said his goal is “a bill that meets the broad concern of creating jobs and not destroying the environment in the process.”
Cullen said a bill to bolster venture-capital efforts to help fledgling businesses didn’t pass last session because Republicans in the Senate and Assembly couldn’t agree on particulars.
Cullen said he hopes to work with Republican Sen. Alberta Darling, who has also worked on the venture-capital issue.
Cullen also takes over the vice-chairmanship of the Senate Committee on Health, Revenue, Tax Fairness and Insurance and takes a seat on the Transportation Projects Commission.
Cullen said the commission post will allow him to follow the proposal to expand Interstate 90/39, which serves Cullen’s district, from four lanes to six.
Cullen has a keen interest in health and insurance, having overseen the state Medicaid program for a time in the 1980s, followed by years as an insurance company executive.
Cullen said he also remains on the Senate Education Committee, which was not formally announced Friday.
Some have criticized Cullen, saying he was being selfish in leaving the caucus.
“I was not prepared to be part of an organization that I had no role in,” Cullen responded. “I’m glad it got resolved.”
Cullen praised other Democratic senators who helped forge the deal. Sen. Jessica King proposed the new committees, while two senators volunteered to step aside for Cullen.
Sen. Tim Carpenter gave up his vice-chairmanship of the health committee, and Sen. James Holperin gave up his seat on the transportation commission.
“This is another example of Democrats finding solutions by working together,” Miller said. “Sen. Cullen is a valued and respected member of our caucus by virtue of his experience working both inside and outside the Capitol. I am pleased to welcome him back so we can focus on getting people in Wisconsin back to work.”