As a result of the recall elections Wisconsin Democrats thankfully took control of the state Senate and they provide a much needed check on Republican abuse of power. During this entire process Senator Tim Cullen endlessly talked about cooperation. Many tired of the kumbaya shtick and found it rather sanctimonious and unrealistic given the gleeful abuse being exacted by power-crazed Republicans.
No matter how you feel about Cullen's rhetoric over the last year-plus, his actions yesterday defy his words. He didn't get the committee chairmanship that he apparently coveted so his reaction was to leave the Democratic Caucus? How can you create cooperation with radical Republicans when you can't even stop yourself from creating petty self-serving divisions in your own caucus?
Senator Cullen claimed in an email that he was not sufficiently valued based on not getting the committee chairmanships that he personally wanted. However he was offered the chairmanship of the extremely important Committee on Small Business Development and Tourism. Just because it is not his personally preferred committee doesn't mean that he wasn't valued. Perhaps this was a moment where Sen. Cullen could have put his year of words into actual practice from within his own caucus.
I happened to come across an old story that has given me some historical perspective on Cullen's apparent ability to promote himself - sometimes at the expense of others. Back in the 1980's Cullen served as majority leader for Senate Democrats. He eventually left the legislature to join Republican Governor Tommy Thompson's administration as the Secretary of the Department of Health and Social Services.
At the time that Tim Cullen headed DHSS there was an ongoing dispute between the state and former insurance giant Blue Cross Blue Shield of Wisconsin. According to a 1991 report the insurer owed years of debts to the Medicaid program. In 1984, prior to Cullen taking over, the state rejected a proposed settlement of $1 million because many believed the debt to be much higher. In fact the Audit Bureau estimated that the debt stood at at least $3 million. But after Cullen took over the department he signed off on a settlement of only $150,000. Within weeks of Tim Cullen signing that settlement agreement he was offered and eventually took a vice president's job at Blue Cross. The president of the company said that he hired Cullen despite his lack of experience in the insurance business because he is "a good golf-course salesman."
In the same article I also found a particularly interesting comment from Tim Cullen's former deputy at DHSS. Apparently Cullen fired him and the deputy claimed it was because he was "too independent for Cullen". I only find this accusation interesting because now we have Tim Cullen using the very same excuse for why he didn't get the committee chairmanships that he most wanted.
In Tim Cullen's divisive email yesterday, he relies heavily on his experience as a reason for getting exactly what he wanted. But based on some of the interesting revelations from the above cited article, I actually think that much of that experience should be prohibitive to some of the assignments that he most wanted.
In the end Tim Cullen had an opportunity to put his year of rhetoric into real action. Not only did he fail his own test but he sadly failed it from within his own caucus. Instead of actually implementing a higher road approach he chose to sow even more division by seeking self promotion over the common good. That kind of approach didn't help the state in 1988 and it certainly is not helpful today.