Wisconsin state Dem quits caucus, threatens to undermine recall gains

FILE: Feb. 21, 201:  Protesters bang drums and shout slogans inside the state capitol in Madison, Wis.

FILE: Feb. 21, 201: Protesters bang drums and shout slogans inside the state capitol in Madison, Wis.  (AP)

A Wisconsin state lawmaker this week quit the Democratic caucus in an apparent ideological huff and might even become an independent, threatening the hard-fought chamber majority the party achieved out of the raucous recall elections.

State Sen. Tim Cullen quit the caucus Tuesday, saying he left because Majority Leader Mark Miller offered him only a “minimal” committee chairmanship. He said he would decide within a few weeks whether to become an independent.

In an email to supporters, Cullen said Miller’s take-it-or-leave-it offer “made clear to me that (he) has no time for my independent ideas and my support of bipartisan solutions to the state’s problems.”

“Sen. Miller’s decisions are an insult to me,” Cullen added. Miller has defended himself, claiming the committee post he offered Cullen -- on small business and tourism -- was indeed important. 

Beyond the personal tiff, though, the decision raises questions about Democrats' tenuous hold on power in Madison. Senate Democrats now hold a 17-16 majority but whether that will hold – or how significant that will be – remains unclear.

Republican state Sen. Rich Zipperer is expected next month to become GOP Gov. Scott Walker’s deputy chief of staff, which would still give Democrats a 16-15-1 majority if Cullen decides to become an independent. At least until Zipperer's seat is filled. 

However, the legislature is on summer recess, and the majority is up for grabs again in November when 16 of the chamber’s 33 seats are on the ballot. Zipperer's is also slated to be filled after the November election. 

Republicans have an overwhelming majority in the state Assembly, the legislature’s lower chamber.

Just last year, Cullen was among the 14 chamber Democrats who fled to Illinois to prevent a vote on legislation backed by Walker to eliminate most collective bargaining agreements for state employees.