Barely settled into their new offices, the Democratic control of the Wisconsin State Senate is already under threat.
Just nine days after Sen. John Lehman beat his Republican opponent in a recall election and gained the Democrats a 17-16 majority, Sen. Tim Cullen announced that he is breaking away from the Democratic caucus.
Cullen’s decision to leave the caucus follows a disagreement with Majority Leader Sen. Mark Miller over committee assignments.
Miller offered to make the Janesville senator chairman of a new small business and tourism committee. However, Cullen rejected the chairmanship, saying that it wasn’t important enough.
In a statement released on Tuesday, Cullen said “Sen. Miller’s decisions are an insult to me and the people of the 15th Senate District.”
Cullen said that once he rejected the offer, Miller had agreed to meet him to discuss alternatives. Instead, Miller proceeded to announce the committee appointments on the same day. The only Senate Democrat whose name wasn’t on the list was Cullen’s.
“This entire episode makes clear to me that Sen. Miller has no time for my independent ideas and my support of bipartisan solutions to the state’s problem,” Cullen said.
Wisconsin Senate Republican leader Sen. Scott Fitzgerald told The Daily Caller that he wasn’t entirely surprised by Cullen’s decision and it was representative of a bigger problem within the Democratic caucus, arising from having a leader slightly more to the left than everyone else.
Fitzgerald said that Miller has split the committees into areas he found “almost puzzling” and that it was “bizarre” how Miller severed communication with Cullen instead of being open to resolving the issue.
Cullen said that he would decide whether or not to become an independent in the next few days or weeks, but he would not become a Republican. Regardless, the Democrats will still hold onto their majority because Republican Sen. Rich Zipperer is resigning to become Gov. Scott Walker’s deputy chief of staff next month.
However, Fitzgerald said that these recent events have very little impact on Wisconsin’s state legislature. He told TheDC that he is confident that Republicans will recapture the Senate in November’s elections, and until then it is unlikely that anything will change because the Senate is out of regular session until January.
He said that when the Democrats took control of the Senate, “it was more of a ceremonial day with some logistic changes, like office changes”.
“As far as actually having an impact between now and November, it is very difficult for them to do that [because of] the way the joint resolution, which establishes the legislative calendar, is put together,” he added.
Cullen said that for now he remains a Democrat, but has cut his party ties to allow him more freedom and independence in voting.