By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON, Wis. — This week’s sendoff celebration for the left’s three most lionized state senators was just what you might expect.
There was a steady flow of booze, which helped color the obligatory speeches. Long speeches. There were old legislative war stories, by the dozens. A lot of “in our day ..” reminiscences common with old men and old politicians. Some bloviating, some sucking up, some heartfelt gratitude, and a lot of jokes.
At times, it was hard to tell whether the 75-plus attendees who showed up for the “salute” to retiring Sens. Tim Cullen, D-Janesville, Bob Jauch, D-Poplar, and Dale Schultz, R-Richland Center, were witnessing a fond farewell or a Dean Martin-style roast.
“I’m looking around the room and I don’t see a lot of Republican legislators here,” Jauch said during his swan song. “And I don’t say that as a criticism, but I would have expected more of them would have shown up today to make sure Dale Schultz is really leaving.”
“In Tim Cullen’s case, they’re wondering if he’s coming back and when,” Jauch said, to roars of laughter.
SEEMS LIKE OLD TIMES: Outgoing state Sen. Bob Jauch, D-Poplar, one of three retiring state senators that old pols and lobbyists paid tribute to Tuesday night in Madison.
He was right. There weren’t many Republicans in the room, shy of state Supreme Court Justice David Prosser, who served for several years in the Legislature before joining the court, former state Sen. Brian Rude, long retired, and former state Sen. Mary Panzer, long ago “primaried” by a conservative, Glenn Grothman, now on his way to Congress.
Schultz, billed by some as one of the few surviving moderates in state Legislature, has in recent years been a pain in the rump for government reform-minded conservatives who have lead the GOP’s majority control over both houses of the Legislature for most of the past four years.
The former Senate majority leader of a bygone time in Wisconsin politics is retiring after a 32-year legislative career.
He announced his decision months ago as it grew more and more likely he, like Panzer, would be primaried out of his position.
Schultz earned the ire of conservatives for being the sole Republican to cast votes against Gov. Scott Walker’s signature public-sector collective bargaining reform legislation known as Act 10.
It was the same bill that brought protesters by the tens of thousands, many of them rounded up by organized labor, to the Capitol in 2011. It was Act 10 that sent Schultz’s “bipartisan” pals, Cullen and Jauch, packing along with the 12 other Democratic senators, who absconded across the border to Illinois in an attempt to forestall a vote on the bill. Republicans passed it without the fleeing 14, on a procedural move.
Cullen joked he was glad Jauch picked up the tab for many of the drinks during the Dems’ Illinois getaway. Cullen was praised as a captain of legislation who spent his lengthy career in government eschewing the rocks of the right, and the rocks of the left.
The three senators, Schultz in particular, became darlings of the left — seen simultaneously as the resistance and moderating force of “compromise” in the battle over Wisconsin’s mining law. The three toured the state declaring the evils of the “special interest”-led bill and the dangers iron ore mining would bring to Wisconsin’s north country.
They promoted an alternative bill that watered down the original legislation and was dead on arrival in the Senate. The original bill was passed, sans Schultz’s support, with a Republican majority. The law merely streamlines the regulatory process and prohibits the kind of constant delays that have done in so many development projects in Wisconsin’s past.
Schultz told Wisconsin Reporter this month’s general election results showing another massive wave of support for Republicans, including the comfortable re-election win for Walker, is the “customer speaking.” And, as his pharmacist dad once told the lawmaker, the customer is always right.
“And I think in this election it is the customer speaking, and I think the majority of the customers in Wisconsin have spoken and whether we agree with all the decisions they’ve made or even any of them, I think all of us should respect the customers and join together and do what’s best for the state,” the retiring lawmaker said.
That doesn’t mean giving in on principles and ideas, Schultz said, adding that the majority party, his party, needs to find ways to reach out to the other side of the aisle.
“I think there are a lot of my colleagues who want to take every election and say this is a mandate for me and everything I think of. I don’t think that’s the case at all,” he said. “I think the voters give us direction and we need to move forward. The need for compromise hasn’t disappeared.”
How does the long-time lawmaker really feel about Walker, who Schultz once served with in the Legislature, and the current Republican leadership? After much of a lifetime in politics, perhaps it’s not surprising Schultz offered a kind of political answer.
“We certainly know the governor and certainly many of my Republican colleagues can win a fight, but can they maintain the peace by reaching out and working with others?” he asked. “I hope and trust that they will, and if they do I know they will succeed for a long time.”