Tim Cullen Discusses Retirement From State Legislature

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Tim Cullen Discusses Retirement From State Legislature

Premiere Date: 
September 13, 2013

Sen. Tim Cullen, D-Janesville, announced recently he will leave at the end of his term.

 

Episode Transcript: 

Frederica Freyberg:

Finally tonight, a man with a long and varied tenure, both inside state government and in private business, announced this month he's stepping down from the legislature. Democratic senator Tim Cullen of Janesville says he will not seek reelection when his term ends in 2014. Cullen served in the state senate from 1975 to 1987, five of those years as Majority leader. He served as Tommy Thompson's Secretary of Health and Social Services, and then served as an insurance company executive. In 2010 he jumped back into politics, winning his seat once again in the state senate. Senator Tim Cullen tonight on why he's not seeking reelection. Welcome, Senator. And that question, why aren't you seeking reelection?

Tim Cullen:

Well, I fundamentally determined that for my time I have on this Earth, I hope it's quite a while, that I can do more in the private sector working in causes I believe in than I can by coming back to the state senate.

Frederica Freyberg:

Why? Why can you do more outside it than inside it?

Tim Cullen:

First of all, I'm not proud to say that. I'm disappointed to say that. You come up here and the politics up here are not about solving a lot of the issues I care about, in many cases around poverty. And I figure someone else can come up here. I think they’ll send a Democrat to replace me. And I think they’ll come up here and vote largely the way I would. And I can go back to being a private citizen, work on things I really believe in.

Frederica Freyberg:

I think I read that you suggested that nowadays compromise seems to have become a four-letter word. Is that part of it?

Tim Cullen:

That's part of it. Some people say I'm a moderate. I'm really not a moderate. I'm left of center. But I think compromise is absolutely a part of our regular lives outside the Capitol. I mean, what 20-year marriage has been successful without 1,000 compromises? That's the way we lead our lives, except in the Capitol. And I just think that if you have important legislation, if it has the support of more of the legislature, maybe 60% of the legislature supports it, therefore maybe 60% of Wisconsin supports it, it's more likely to be successful. I mean, you look in both parties. I think the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare, is in a lot of trouble around this country and its acceptance of it because it was passed by only one party, the Democrats. I think Act 10 and all the turmoil we've had here in Wisconsin is because one party jammed it through. Thomas Jefferson said in 1808, he says, “Great changes should not be passed by narrow majorities.” I think he was right in 1808. He's right today.

Frederica Freyberg:

Speaking of legislation, you worked on mining compromise bill and now you're working on a redistricting bill to require the Legislative Reference Bureau to kind of draw the political boundaries instead of the legislature. Why is this important to you even as you take your leave of the Capitol?

Tim Cullen:

Well, first of all, I got 16 months to go in this term, so I want to keep working on things. But I think it's at the core of our political divisions. If you let the politicians draw the maps, they will draw them to secure their own reelection, first of all. They'll draw them in a way that there's always safe seats, both Republican and Democratic. We've got maps that show that when the Democrats draw them in Illinois it's just as gerrymandered as the Republicans drew in Wisconsin. So you end up having more and more legislators who only worry about their base. They're in safe districts, both parties. And as long as you're only worried about your base, you're not worried about any consensus or compromise then, because your only problem in staying in office is a primary from your left or right, depending which party you're in. So I think it's at the core of what's wrong and we've got time to fix it before we know who's in power in 2021, the next time.

Frederica Freyberg:

All right. Let me go back a couple of years. We talked with you just before you walked out of the Capitol the day the senate Democrats left the state in the midst of the Act 10 debate and here's what you said then.  

Tim Cullen:

It becomes obviously just sort of a waiting game. It's a way to protest the process. I tremendously disagree with the process. I disagree with the bill.

Frederica Freyberg:

That had to be a very strange day for you and others, and it developed that way as well. But if you had to do it again, over again, would you have left the state that way?

Tim Cullen:

I would have. I would have done it-- I would do it again. I think we stayed too long. I think we made our point in about seven days, but the rest of my caucus didn't agree with me. We don't have a filibuster law in Wisconsin. That was our filibuster. In the state senate at any time the majority leader can rise. I used to be the majority leader. The senate president recognizes him, somebody else could have the floor, president will recognize him. The majority leader says, I move we adjourn. The president of the senate says, we're adjourned. So they could cut off  debate instantly whenever they want to. And so that was our filibuster. I might point out that Abraham Lincoln, in 1940 when he was in the Illinois state assembly, climbed out a window to avoid a quorum, right out of the assembly chambers. He climbed out a window because he wanted to avoid being the necessary vote to have a quorum, because he was opposed to a banking bill that was up. So we basically did what Abraham Lincoln did.

Frederica Freyberg:

All right. We have really just 30 seconds left I'm sorry to say. But in the midst of that and the redistricting and all that we've talked about, where do you think Wisconsin is headed?

Tim Cullen:

Well, I think it's headed for more problems until the general public concludes that the idea of running a government that only appeals to the far wing of the base of one party is not a good way to run Wisconsin. Because that’s not Wisconsin. And I think when the cumulative weight of all these issues in the media every day sink in, I think the public's going to demand change. And then I hope if they switch to Democrats, that the Democrats are wise enough to stay somewhere near the middle if they get power back, and not just run way off to the left like Governor Walker ran way off to the right.

Frederica Freyberg:

All right. Senator Tim Cullen, thanks very much.

Tim Cullen:

Thank you.

Frederica Freyberg:

The final word in our conversation with Senator Cullen comes from one of his state Capitol colleagues. We asked Republican senator Dale Schultz for his thoughts on the departure of his friend from Janesville. Here’s what he said. “Senator Cullen is a mentor, teacher and friend. One of the many things Senator Cullen has done to make a real impact is something that kind of goes under the radar. For over ten years he and his wife have endowed summer intern scholarships for high school kids to come and learn about state government for an entire month in Madison. I can't think of anything more important than providing opportunities to young people in a non-partisan manner which helps prepare them for life.” Cullen expects to continue that program, as well as a foundation that provides college scholarships for students of color in Janesville. He also plans to establish a foundation to help ready children in need for school. 


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