15th senate: Veteran legislator, business owner seek open seat
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WHITEWATER When you’re vying to represent a district with the dubious distinction of having the city with the highest unemployment rate in the state, you can bet job creation is going to be the dominant issue.
It’s definitely on the minds of Tim Cullen and Rick Richard, the candidates running for retiring state Sen. Judy Robson’s seat in District 15.
“Everyone will tell you, because the No. 1 issue is obvious to everyone, and that is to return the economy of Rock County to somewhere where it was before, to restore jobs, keep businesses here and attract new businesses. I think, without question, that’s No. 1,” said Cullen, of Janesville, a former state senator.
His opponent, Republican Rick Richard, agreed. The first step in Richard’s four-year plan, if elected, is to focus on jobs and employment.
“I want to go out and find companies that are looking to relocate, and tell them about our district, and get them here because our county has the worst unemployment in the entire state,” Richard said.
In August, Rock County had the second-highest unemployment rate in the state, at 10.2 percent.
“Being a business owner, I know what happens when you create regulations above and beyond the federal regulations; it makes Wisconsin in an island where we are not on the short list for businesses to relocate to,” Richard said.
The 15th District includes most of Rock County as well as the city of Whitewater and the townships of Whitewater and Richmond in Walworth County.
According to the state Department of Workforce Development, the August unemployment rate in Beloit was worst in Wisconsin at 15.3 percent; Janesville, also located in District 15, had the seventh-highest unemployment rate at 10.5 percent.
Richard’s plan is to look at all legislation through the lens of job creation.
“It starts with the question, with every piece of legislation that comes up, ‘Will this help add or create jobs in Wisconsin, and protect taxpayers?’” he said.
With a projected budget deficit of nearly $3 billion facing state legislators next year, talk of taxes remains a touchy subject. Both candidates said they want to make a dent in the deficit; Richard wants to avoid stringent business regulations and said he is committed to vote against any budget that would increase the deficit, while Cullen asserts his ability to work across the aisle will help move legislation forward.
J.R. Ross, editor of the Madison-based political website Wispolitics.com, said Cullen’s experience could prove valuable, as would his party affiliation.
“It’s always been a strong Democratic seat, and they should hold on to it,” Ross said. “In Madison circles, Tim Cullen has the experience, connections and has worked well on both sides of the aisle.”
Richard, who self-identifies as “the conservative candidate,” thinks state politicians are some of the more partisan in the nation.
“Wisconsin government represents some of the most extreme partisanship politics in the U.S.,” he said. “This creates career politicians focused on saving their jobs. For example, this year, many of them avoided hard decisions half of the year, voting along party lines, and now are campaigning for the other half.
“I support a move to part-time salaries and a corresponding cut in benefits.”
Cullen agreed that the political atmosphere has become somewhat toxic in Madison, but said his experience is proof that things can be better.
“Over recent years, vicious partisan politics have made the state Senate a dysfunctional place,” he said. “I hope to restore some civility to the state Senate. It was a much more civil place when I was there before, and I hope to go up there and say, ‘It doesn’t have to be this uncivil. I can tell you about a time when it wasn’t.’ Hopefully I can make a difference.”
Cullen served in the Senate from 1975 to 1987, and also worked as head of the Department of Health and Social Services under then-Gov. Tommy Thompson before moving to the private sector.
Robson supports Cullen, citing his experience in the private and public sectors.
“He really brings a nice balance,” she said. “And then, most recently, he was on the Janesville School Board, so he brings local politics and local government experience. So he’s really well-rounded, and he’ll be able to hit the ground running, which is what we need when we have so many difficult problems and challenges ahead.”
Richard is less impressed with Cullen’s resume.
“I think his experience is a testament to what he accomplished, so to speak: He was the creator of more state government, more centralized state government, and less local control,” Richard said.
He said local governments should wield the most power.
“The extreme political agendas also come from power-centralizing in Madison,” Richard said. “When you have an increase in power in Madison with more state control, the lobbyist money follows.”
Read more election coverage in the e-edition of Walworth County Sunday, HERE.