Former Wisconsin State Senator Tim Cullen New Memoir Offers Life & Political Lessons

Jul 13, 2016

This interview originally aired, March 24, 2016. 

Former Democratic State Senator Tim Cullen has had a close-up view of Wisconsin politics for a longtime. The Janesville native worked in politics for many years.

Originally, Cullen had hoped to become a high school social studies teacher, but once he started working for former Congressman Les Aspen, he found himself drawn to politics. After jobs ranging from congressional staff to State Senate Majority Leader to Republican Governor Tommy Thompson's cabinet, Cullen worked outside of politics for 20 years.

But in 2010, Cullen found himself being pulled back into politics and won his old Senate seat. This put him right in the middle of the most tumultuous period in Wisconsin’s recent political history – the Act 10 fight and the move by democrats in the Senate to stall the bill by leaving the state.

"It was a much more philosophically divided legislature in 2011 than what I had experienced in the '70s and early '80s," says Cullen.

Cullen's new memoir, Ringside Seat: Wisconsin Politics, the 1970s to Scott Walker, discusses life and political lessons learned. One key piece of advice from Cullen: Politicians do not need to be friends in order to work together. Many of the people working at the state Capital are thrown together by voters all across the state, and by no means have to be friends to cooperate, he says.

"Really why you can work with someone on either party is because you have established a level of trust with each other. It's more about trust and keeping your word which allows you to work with people, whether you've have a drink together or not," says Cullen.

Having worked in Wisconsin politics under both Republican and Democratic governors, Cullen believes that party identification has created a divide that has widened over the years. In the past, most politicians worked towards the center; however, Cullen says, this is not the case today.

"The fact that very conservative Republicans or very liberal Democrats win is because those are the only two choices voters have in the general election," says Cullen. "That doesn't mean they wouldn't prefer somebody more moderate, but they're not on the ballot anymore."