By Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON — Tim Cullen is back in the Senate Democrat fold, and it only took some created committee assignments to end a spat between the Janesville senator and the new Senate Majority leader, Mark Miller.
But the behind-the-scenes wheeling and dealing evoked scorn from one Republican senator, who asserts embarrassment brought Miller and Cullen together again.
Cullen and Miller, D-Monona, held a joint press conference Friday at the Capitol to announce they had come to terms after a squabble that saw Cullen weighing whether he would defect from his party.
Miller also announced Cullen would chair the newly created Standing Committee on Small Business and Venture Capital, and lead the re-created Special Committee on Mining.
Cullen also will replace Sen. Tim Carpenter, D-Milwaukee, as vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Revenue, Tax Fairness and Insurance, and was named a member of the Transportation Projects Commission.
“Our caucus wants to address two important job issues left undone this session – mining and venture capital,” Miller said.
Mining was left undone because Democrats and Republicans couldn’t agree on a bill last session. A GOP proposal would have opened up iron ore mining in northern Wisconsin, creating hundreds of jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars in state revenue, but Democrats blasted the bill as a special-interest giveaway, and bad for the environment.
At the time, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, disbanded the mining committee.
“I welcome the decision to recreate the Senate Select Committee on Mining and I am convinced Senator Miller, unlike the previous majority leader, won’t eliminate the committee because he doesn’t like the results,” Jauch said in a statement.
Fitzgerald could not be reached for comment Friday afternoon.
The make-up party comes a few days after Cullen announced he would leave the Democratic caucus, irate that he had been passed over for committee leadership assignments.
His defection would have wiped out the Dems’ one-vote majority in the Senate, won in last month’s recall elections and confirmed over a long recount in the 21st Senate District.
In an email sent to fellow Democrats earlier this week, Cullen trained his ire on Miller.
“Sen. Miller has made clear that he does not value or need my presence in the Senate committee leadership and, quite obviously, in the Senate Democratic Caucus,” he wrote.
Cullen had no plans to move right, saying he would not join the Republican Party, but he did say he would consider becoming an Independent.
But on Friday, it was all smiles and reconciliation.
The long-time senator, seen by many as a moderate in a deeply divided political environment, told a crowded press crowd that Democrats legislative in public and “sometimes we disagree in public.” It was an obvious shot at Republicans, criticized by Democrats for closed-door governance when they controlled both houses of the Legislature in the last session.
State Sen. Glenn Grothman, R-West Bend, said he wasn’t surprised by the compromise.
“It’s a testimony to the intolerance of Democratic leadership that things got this out of hand in the first place,” Grothman said.
The Republican said it’s apparent the new committees were created because Cullen “embarrassed Sen. Miller into doing this.”
Dan Romportl, executive director of the Committee to Elect a Republican Senate, said the fracas points to a lack of leadership in the Senate Democratic caucus.
“I find it hard to believe voters will want to keep them in the majority where they’ll be tasked with overseeing a $60 billion dollar state budget,” Romportl said in an email. “If they can’t even get through assigning lame-duck committee positions without unraveling, how can we expect them to turn our state economy around?”