stuff like this happens? Senator Tim Cullen breaks away from the Democratic Caucus because he feels snubbed by Senate Majority Leader Mark Miller's offer of "Tourism & Small Business" and not getting what he truly wanted with the Health Committee or the Education Committee? Yikes... as one prominent "Tweeter" said this afternoon, "They wouldn't be Democrats if they couldn't snatch defeat from the jaws of victory."
First off, a few observations:
Liberals on Twitter & Facebook who are mocking Cullen - You're not helping anything. Yes, Mr. Cullen isn't a liberal, but the man has been around for 40 years and obviously doesn't make such a decision rashly. That being said, you do have a point.
Republicans who think you've gained a victory - Cullen may have been a friend of Governor Thompson & someone who works well with Republicans on issues, but he did make that decision to defect to Illinois, so it's not like this guy won't be that much less of a Democrat than before.
To those who don't know what to think - Don't. This really has zero effect on anything (As Scott Bauer of the AP pointed out on Twitter this afternoon.) This November will see a reset of everything again anyway. This may just be his way of making a point for now, but we really don't know.
So essentially here's what I've gathered so far in brief. Sen. Miller talked to Sen. Cullen about him serving as chair of the "Tourism & Small Business Committee" and Sen. Cullen made his displeasure known at that time. This initial conversation is the one that interests me most because it sets the tone each side has taken since. Apparently, when Sen. Cullen found out he would not be offered the Health Committee he told Miller, "If I don't get that I don't even want a chairmanship." Miller must have taken this to heart, giving everyone else two Committee leadership positions and Sen. Cullen none. This apparently has now further scorned Sen. Cullen.
As I understand it, after this initial call, there were at least a few other exchanges of phone calls and at least one person-to-person meeting to try and "iron out" the differences. According to the WSJ article above though, the last phone call ended with Sen. Miller hanging up on Sen. Cullen. Yesterday, I read that Sen. Cullen felt that him and Sen. Miller were still in the process of talking when he sent the e-mail that announced the leadership positions, and that straw is what finally broke the camels back.
Okay, so let's look at this from two perspectives.
First is that Cullen got what was coming to him. This is the argument that Cullen has been too easy and willing to work with Republicans over the last two years (particularly moderate Republican Sen. Dale Schultz) and that during a time when Governor Scott Walker was running rim-shot over the legislative process Sen. Cullen needed to "stick with the team." Sen. Cullen is someone who worked in private industry over the last decade or so since leaving the Thompson administration, but ran again in 2010 because he specifically did not like the division in politics and wanted to "work together." Sadly, 2010 was not the year to be elected for that in Wisconsin. It was also not the year to scorn liberals by continually trying to work with a group the clearly had no interest in "giving" anything. (Talking about compromise works, but sometimes you have to take a stand for your beliefs!)
Furthermore, Sen. Cullen is someone who does not support "Obamacare" and during his time in the private sector, worked for health insurance companies. Sen. Miller would never in his wildest dreams appoint someone who has come out against the Affordable Care Act and worked in industry to a leadership role on a committee that is looking to reform it. Sen. Cullen also has knowledge about schools seeing as he has served on the local School Board, so his asking for an appointment to the Education Committee would seem somewhat logical, but do we have the full story? Did Sen. Miller play hardball with Sen. Cullen over this position? It's something we don't know right now, but with him jumping from the caucus at this point, it looks like he is just wining because "he didn't get everything he exactly wanted."
But now, the perspective that Sen. Cullen got the shaft. Mary Erpenbach on Twitter made a few comments about the fact that she was a former legislative aide and that Sen. Cullen likely was shafted for what he did deserve. She alluded to the fact that his extended tenure and knowledge on such issues makes him a candidate for the positions he was passed over. Furthermore, it is a bit of a slap that assignments were announced before everything was all "smoothed over" between Sen's Miller & Cullen. Obviously there has been some tension for a while, but Sen. Miller's actions do not translate to negotiating and talking in good faith if he sent out e-mails before a resolution came to place between the two groups.
Needless to say, there is a lot to this story we just don't know, so jumping off the deep end either in support or defense of Senator Cullen's decision would be pretty blind to most of us. My own thoughts lie somewhere in between the two sides I have seen on social media, but I think what Sen. Cullen wanted was just not going to happen. I do wish I could cite every tweet or series of tweets I read that put this story together in my mind, but sadly it's late and I don't have the energy to find them all.
First off, Sen. Cullen likely wasn't snubbed for absolutely no reason at all. You can't tell me that any disagreements that have happened between leadership and the Senator over the past year or so were not addressed when Sen. Miller made his offers of leadership positions. Furthermore, Sen. Cullen does seem like he is trying to manipulate this situation, which he has little influence on as he is not the Majority Leader. Part of being an organized political party (which Democrats rarely are) is swallowing your pride and taking what you are dealt as a rank and file member. Republicans do this amazingly, which is why they are always united, on message, and ram stuff through.
Remember though, this is only til November where there is little to do in terms of official business.
Now, something obviously got messed-up with the communication stream, and that's unacceptable too. I'm not sure where, I'm not sure who is at fault, but the Majority Leader should not have been so blindsided by his anger and this decision if he truly felt like he realized the scorn Sen. Cullen feels by the party leaders. The Majority Leader also should have been well prepared to answer questions from the media when this hit the wire, so the fact he looks flat-footed does not serve his position well. Lastly, you do have to pay due deference to Sen. Cullen's years of experience and his time spent in all levels of State Government. Not doing so is a sign of disrespect to what he brings to the table, and simply saying that after the fact does not seem genuine.
Likely, we will never fully know what drove yesterday's decision. However, we also don't know what this holds for the future either. The Senator may not run again in two years, rendering this whole point moot. He may side with Republicans on more issues than before, but in the short-term, that is unimportant, in the long-term we don't know what that will do the the "balance of power" and in a historical term, it may be good if we grow a moderate faction of both parties in the Senate to avoid another round of extreme bills like the 2011 Term.
Either way, it changes nothing as of now. Tomorrow, Tim Cullen still largely supports Democrats, he isn't a Republican, and Scott Walker will have a hard time passing any legislation carte-blanche.