Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Cullen's departure based on vanity, not conviction

Drastic move unusual for cooperative, moderate senator

Sen. Tim Cullen, a moderate Democrat from Janesville, has decided to dump the party and possibly become a independent legislator.

It seems that Cullen was upset that he didn't get named to head any committee within the newly-formed Democratic Senate:
Cullen, who was among the 14 Democratic senators who left the state during the historic protests at the Capitol in 2011 but had sought compromise with GOP governor Scott Walker on collective bargaining, said he was insulted by not being named chairman of any Senate committees after the Democrats regain control of that chamber.
It was unclear initially what, if any, implication this move would have for the Democratic-controlled Senate, which just took power last week.

But Assemblyman Corey Mason, in an online Tweet/Facebook post, mentioned that Cullen would still vote for Sen. Mark Miller (D-Monona) for Majority Leader, indicating that leadership roles, at least when it came to the Senate as a whole, would remain in the Democrats' hands (image taken around 4:00 PM on Tuesday, July 24).

Other committee assignments, however, could be up for contention -- a split Senate would have to compromise, with Cullen's vote being the ultimate decider on the issue.

While I'm generally supportive of the Democratic Party, I also feel that independents should have their place within the legislature as well. Party politics often cater to one of two interests, oftentimes leaving out other voices with equally valuable ideas and debates.

Yet Cullen's move to leave the party seems less admirable than that. It wasn't his independent streak (which he's openly exercised as a Democrat before) that caused him to leave the party and to shake things up in the Senate. Rather, it was a decision based on vanity, on a response to a move by the party to neglect him when forming committee assignments.

In retrospect, it was probably an unwise move to disrespect Cullen in that way. Including a moderate among those that control the Senate committees not only could have appeased the senator but could have been a politically advantageous move as well.

Still, Cullen's response goes beyond the offense committed by the Democrats. Imagine if every senator in the Democratic caucus behaved this way because they didn't get their preferred seating. There would never be a functioning Senate, and the Republicans could potentially take control of leadership again.

Cullen's selfishness, so unbecoming and unusual for the ordinarily cooperative senator, has tainted the hard work it took for recall organizers to win back the "upper house" of the state legislature.

UPDATE: Apparently, a chairmanship WAS offered to Cullen, which he turned down. The official statement from Sen. Mark Miller, Senate Democratic Leader:
"I am disappointed in Sen. Cullen and the decision he made today. Sen. 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."

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