Gubernatorial elections take place next year, and in states like Wisconsin, potential candidates are starting emerge. One of them is the author of this book.
Tim Cullen, a former Democratic state senator served in the Wisconsin Senate during the 1970s. His district included the Southeastern town of Janesville, where he was born. In 1987 he became Senate Majority leader. Later, Republican Governor Tommy Thompson asked him to serve as Secretary of the Department of Health and Social Services. (Think of that: A Republican Governor asks a Democrat to head a State agency? When would that happen again?) In 1988, Cullen left the Senate for a job with Blue Cross. In 2010, he ran for and won his old Senate seat. The changes he saw were a motivating factor for writing this book.
Before Scott Walker became Governor, Wisconsin was governed by Democrats and Republicans who took a centrist approach, and were able to reach across party lines to work with other officials. As an example, in the nineties, Republican governor Tommy Thompson worked with Madison’s so-called “Hippie Mayor” Paul Soglin, to finally- after 60 years- get the Monona Terrace Convention Center built. But after Scott Walker succeeded, Democrat Jim Doyle, there would be no more centrism. Walker wanted to Govern from the right.
Scott Walker broke the centrist mold with what he called, his “bombs”. The most infamous “bomb” was 2011 Wisconsin Act 10, a budget bill that included the repeal of collective bargaining rights for state workers. Cullen recalls how he and other Democratic senators – in an effort to ensure that there wasn’t a quorum – fled to Illinois in order to prevent the Act’s passage. It didn’t work. Act 10 passed, and was later upheld by the Wisconsin State Supreme Court. This “bomb” was one example of the divided politics Cullen observed in his return to the Senate. There were others.
Cullen observes that back in the 1970’s the Wisconsin Manufacturers Association (WMA) and the teacher’s association called the Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC) had lobbyists for both the democrats & the republicans. In the 21st century. WEAC lobbies the Dems, WMA lobbies the Republicans. This type of division in lobbying can be found in other states, too.
Cullen noticed another change that is probably common to other state legislatures – the rise of the professional staffers. I haven’t been to Springfield, Illinois in a long time, but I’ve visited other capital cities. Austin, Texas, Des Moines, Iowa, and Madison, Wisconsin are nice places to make a living. Who wants to go home after your boss retires or gets voted out of office? Cullen writes about staffers who expect to be hired by the next incoming Senator or Assemblyman. He recounts how one State senator made decisions on supporting legislation by having his staff vote. Sometimes, the staff outvoted him two to one!
The most valuable section of this book – and the most eye opening are the appendices. Contrast the maps of Iowa’s House and Senate Districts with Wisconsin & Illinois districts. Which ones were more evenly drawn? Contrast the original “Wisconsin Idea”, the mission statement of the University of Wisconsin system with Gov. Walker’s proposed changes. Big hint: no more extending “…knowledge and its applications beyond the boundaries of the campuses, but more developing human resources “… to meet the state’s workforce needs…” Fortunately, Walker didn’t get his way.
Conclusions? Cullen thinks that a post-Walker Governor can return to governing from the center and capitalize on the values that unite Wisconsinites. Some of those values made me go huh? Everyone likes the Friday fish fry? Sounds like a cliche. Fishing, wintertime snowmobiling and deer hunting “Up North”? Maybe. Maybe not. Having to pay attention to Chronic Wasting Disease puts a damper on the deer hunting.
OK, so everyone in the state, backs the Packers, and the Non-Marquette folks swarm into Madison for University of Wisconsin sports. You could say that’s a shared state value.
But I wonder if Cullen has had a chance to read Kathrine Cramer’s Book, “The Politics of Resentment, Rural Consciousness in Wisconsin and the Rise of Scott Walker”
If Cullen were to run and win the Governorship, he would inherit a state with an urban-rural divide, where the “Up Northers” think that folks Madison, Milwaukee and Janesville have no understanding or respect for rural life. Other states have that split too, but that’s for another review.
One more thing. Tim Cullen is donating profits from the sale of Ringside Seat to the Janesville Multicultural Teachers Opportunity Fund, which supports Janesville students of color who want to pursue a career in education, and are willing to return to their hometown to teach for at least three years.