SPOTLIGHT

Wisconsin’s Union Politics in 2018

Cullen played a central role in the state’s legislative standoff in 2011.

Wisconsin Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke, left, walks with Wisconsin Sen. Tim Cullen at the Rock County 4-H Fair, Thursday July 24, 2014, in Janesville, Wis.
AP Photo/Andy Manis
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Zach C. Cohen
March 10, 2017, 10:35 a.m.

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

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