Ex-senator's book: Gov. Walker 'threw out the wisdom' of predecessors

JANESVILLE -- Tim Cullen, the last Senate Democrat to leave the state Capitol during the 2011 collective bargaining fight and the most willing to strike a deal to end the impasse -- criticizes his fellow lawmakers and Gov. Scott Walker in a new book.

Tim Cullen

Cullen's "Ringside Seat: Wisconsin Politics, The 1970s to Scott Walker" contrasts the former senator's time in office during the 1970s and 1980s with his latest stint earlier this decade. Cullen was one of 14 lawmakers who fled across the border to Illinois in an effort to slow down Act 10, the bill that eventually ended many collective bargaining rights for most public-sector employees in Wisconsin.

Cullen said Walker called him during the impasse, shortly after Cullen and another Democratic senator held a negotiating session with the governor's chief of staff over the collective bargaining bill, but remembers that Walker didn't talk policy on the call.

Ringside Seat by Tim Cullen

"We only talked five minutes and then it was over," Cullen remembers. "Then, at his press conference that afternoon, when (reporters) asked him whether there was any chance for a compromise and whether he was talking with any Democrats, he said at the press conference, 'Yes, as a matter of fact, just this morning I talked with Sen. Cullen. Well, then I realized the call was a setup.

"The purpose of the call, I believe, was to say he had made the call."

Fight over Act 10 at the Capitol

Walker's office did not respond to an email seeking comment Sunday.

The former senator said Walker may have begun considering a presidential bid during Act 10, when the governor received heavy amounts of attention from the national media. Yet Cullen criticized Walker heavily for not keeping with the tradition of moderate Wisconsin governors.

"I say in the book that Gov. Walker threw out the wisdom of his 12 predecessors and governed only from the right," Cullen told FOX6 News.

Cullen, himself a centrist Democrat who served as Senate majority leader during the 1980s, said he felt fellow Democrats were too beholden to the interests of national union groups during the Act 10 struggle. And he was surprised to learn the caucus had no end-game strategy while in Illinois.

"It seems like when you go somewhere, you ought to have a plan to come back," he said. "And it turns out it was never discussed at the caucus (before deciding to leave for Illinois), which I thought was a little unusual."

Cullen said he went home to Janesville frequently after learning that the Democrats couldn't be caught and forced back to the Capitol.

"That was the thing that really nobody knew in either party at the front end, was that we really didn’t have to go to Illinois," he said. "The only way they could compel you to come back to the Capitol was if they arrested you. And being in your home somewhere else, that’s not a crime."

Cullen said he wrote "Ringside Seat" to explain the changes in Wisconsin politics over the past four decades. He said he's not running for elected office again, and pledged that all profits from his book will go to his foundation, which provides college scholarships to minority high school students in Janesville who want to become teachers.

Cullen laments the polarization in politics, but writes that there should be hope for the future.

"I do say in the book that I feel Gov. Walker`s an aberration. I do believe that we`re going to go back somewhere near where his 12 predecessors were," he said. "Wisconsin has a lot of things that bind us together as citizens, unrelated to politics. I talk about it in the book -- the Green Bay Packers, deer hunting, going up north."

Copies of "Ringside Seat" are available for pre-order here. The cost is $18.95.