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Our views: Tim Cullen devotes life to serving public

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September 10, 2013

Little did Tim Cullen know 3 years ago when he decided to get back into government that bombshell legislation would change the course of state history and cast a shadow over the rest of his political career.

It's unfortunate. Cullen is among the good guys whose intentions are beyond reproach and whose willingness to compromise carried hope that the differing sides in Madison could, once again, come together for the betterment of the state.

Just months after Cullen was elected to represent the 15th District in the state Senate, however, Gov. Scott Walker unveiled Act 10, the hugely controversial legislation that greatly undermined the power of public employee unions. Cullen and other Senate Democrats hid out in Illinois to delay a vote on the bill. Democrats and union supporters applauded the move. Many others have never forgiven Cullen and his counterparts.

The die was cast. After returning from Illinois, Cullen would struggle to regain support beyond his base, and the division in Madison that had developed since Cullen first left office in 1987 grew wider than ever.

Cullen has decided not to seek re-election in November 2014. He announced his plans last week to give potential candidates a chance to consider running for the position and to give them time to get organized.

In his announcement, Cullen said the political climate at the Capitol was a primary reason for his decision.

“I am not proud of or pleased by the fundamental conclusion I have reached: that I can make a bigger difference in my community as a private citizen than I can in the ugly political environment we see now in Wisconsin government,” Cullen said in a statement.

Cullen, who also served as a state senator in the 1970s and '80s and Senate majority leader for five years, often talked of returning to the days when it was normal for legislators of both parties to be friends, which Cullen believed could lead to good lawmaking. It didn't happen this time around.

After his term ends in 16 months, Cullen plans to focus more energy on two local nonprofits he founded, the Cullen Government Internship Program and the Janesville Multicultural Teacher Opportunities Scholarship Fund. He said he also would work for Healthnet, the free clinic in Janesville.

Cullen also wants to start a foundation to address the problem of poor youths who don't get the encouragement and discipline they need to succeed in school.

Cullen has been serving the public in different ways since he was first elected to the Janesville City Council in 1970. Besides the council and the state Senate, he also sat on the local school board and was Gov. Tommy Thompson's secretary of health and social services in the late 1980s.

Although we condemned his decision to flee to Illinois as an abdication of his responsibilities, we can't let that move overshadow his many years of committed service. Cullen deserves our thanks and appreciation for the work he's done for the people of Janesville and Wisconsin and for what he's yet to do.



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