On Tuesday afternoon state senator Tim Cullen of Janesville sent an email to Democratic colleagues announcing his resignation from the Democratic Caucus. The announcement comes after the Democrats had just this week taken back control of the body by a narrow one-vote majority, following a recount in a close recall election.

In the email, Senator Cullen makes clear he decided to leave because Senate Majority leader Mark Miller passed over him while handing out committee assignments

"Sen. Miller’s decisions are an insult to me and the people of the 15th Senate District," Senator Cullen wrote.

He attached a PDF file of committee assignments, listing the names of his colleagues and bullet points with their prospective chairmanships and vice chairmanships of various Senate committees. Under his own name, there was a blank space next to the bullet point, indicating no assignments.
"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 wrote.

"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. I will decide over the next few days or weeks whether to become an Independent. I will not become a Republican."

At a press conference in his office, Cullen told reporters he was leaning toward leaving the party altogether to become an independent and would decide "long before the November elections."

Nor did he rule out the idea of crossing party lines to vote with the Republicans on some issues. "Time will tell," he said. "It depends on the issue. But I don't see myself ending up consistently with either side."

"Not much is going to occur between now and November anyway," Cullen added, since the Senate is out of session.

With new Senate districts that favor the Republicans, the Democrats may lose their slim majority before they have a chance to do any meaningful work, he pointed out.

Sitting at his desk, with a "Wisconsin 14" logo on a firefighter's hat on the wall behind him, Cullen described his break with his colleague, Senator Miller, with whom he fled to Illinois in 2011 as one of the fourteen senators who left to delay passage of Governor Scott Walker's union-busting Budget Repair Bill.

Does Cullen's defection mean that the Wisconsin 14's spirit of solidarity is gone?

"These are a whole new series of events and that's now a time in the past," Cullen said.

Still, he added, "I think going to Illinois was the right thing to do. Where I differed was I thought we stayed too long."

Cullen briefly considered running against Walker in the recall election, describing himself as someone who could reach out to both sides. A friend of former Republican governor Tommy Thompson and a leader of a failed effort to negotiate a compromise with Walker on collective bargaining, he was seen by some Democrats as an unreliable ally.

But in the effort to reach out to Governor Walker to try to strike a deal to save collective bargaining rights for public employees, he maintains, "we were close."

Still, he made clear, his decision to leave the caucus centers not on policy differences but on what he describes as an unprecedented insult in denying him a leadership position.

Before going public, Cullen told reporters, he tried to work things out behind the scenes. That effort came to nothing, he said, when Miller apparently hung up on him during a phone conversation on Saturday morning. "At a certain point there was no one on the other end of the line," he said.

The message was clear, Cullen said: "that he can treat me however he wants and I'm supposed to just take it."

Senator Miller's office released the following statement: "“I am disappointed in Senator Cullen and the decision he made today. Senator Cullen turned down the chairmanship of the Committee on Small Business Development and Tourism. 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.”

Asked whether his defection, in such a polarized political environment and with such a closely divided Senate, might be demoralizing for voters who have been fighting with Democrats to overcome Walker and the Republicans, Cullen said "I don 't think it should be demoralizing at all."

"I walk in a lot of parades," Cullen added, describing a general lessening of combative, passionate responses from constituents--both for and against him--along recent parade routes.

"The state has calmed down," he said. On the Fourth of July, he said, "People yelled out to me, 'I hope you guys can work together up there.'"

If you liked this article by Ruth Conniff, the political editor of The Progressive, check out her story "Republicans For No Health Care."

Follow Ruth Conniff @rconniff on Twitter

Add new comment

By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.


It's finally setting in: Trump is Trump and he’s not going to change because of winning the nomination.

The new head of the Environmental Protection has a history of suing the agency for trying to do its job.

By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

Public School Shakedown

Progressive Media Project