Tim Cullen’s forthcoming governor bid in Wisconsin will test the power of pro-union rhetoric in 2018. But history complicates the Democrat’s message, even against Republican Gov. Scott Walker, the poster child for limiting unions’ power.
Cullen, a longtime legislative leader and state cabinet member, left the state Senate in 2014 after gaining national political fame three years earlier when he and 13 other legislators fled to Illinois to prevent a vote on Republicans’ controversial public union collective bargaining reforms.
But there are cracks in Cullen’s progressive bona fides that could hinder him in a primary. Walker, who is expected to seek a third term, has praised Cullen for being “pretty reasonable” for working with the GOP before and during the 2011 standoff, and Cullen once told protesters they should be “more respectful” of Walker. In 2012, Cullen even briefly left the Democratic caucus while representing a Democratic-leaning district.
Among potential primary opponents, Rep. Ron Kind and state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout have expressed interest in running, and other candidates such as Dane County Executive Joe Parisi could join the fray.
If Cullen is nominated, it could indicate voters have an appetite for a candidate that can both counter Walker on familiar ground and counteract Walker’s portrayal of his opponents as extremists.
— Zach C. Cohen