Wisconsin Democrats patched together their precarious majority in the state Senate today by creating two new committees for Sen. Tim Cullen, who quit the caucus earlier this week after being snubbed on assignments.
Cullen, of Janesville, held a joint news conference with Senate Majority Leader Mark Miller of Monona on Friday afternoon to announce the new committees and welcome Cullen back into the fold. On Monday, Cullen had quit the caucus and pondered becoming an independent.
The senators attempted to turn the internal dispute into a challenge of Gov. Scott Walker's agenda. The committees "address two important job issues left undone this session -- mining and venture capital," according to a news release (PDF).
The Special Committee on Mining and the Committee on Small Business and Venture Capital will both be chaired by Cullen. He will also be the vice-chair of the Senate Committee on Health, Revenue, Tax Fairness and Insurance, and be a member of the Transportation Projects Commission.
Cullen joked about the dispute, pointing out that Miller has English roots and Cullen has Irish ones -- cultures with a long history of conflict. "Maybe there's still a little bit of that in both of our genes."
But Cullen also says this is simply how Democrats operate. "This squabble got public because we're Democrats," he said. "We legislate in public and we disagree in public, and I think it's okay to do that."
Miller, who seemed in a hurry to end the press conference, took some responsibility for the spat, saying, "I maybe could have dealt with this better. But Sen. Cullen is a valued member of our caucus and I welcome him back." He thanked Sen. Jessica King (D-Oshkosh) for her role in bringing Cullen back.
Both new committees target issues that the Legislature -- which had been controlled by the Republicans before the June 5 recall elections -- had failed to resolve. A mining bill was proposed to allow Florida-based Gogebic Taconite to open a $1.5 billion iron mine in northwest Wisconsin. But the negotiations broke down after moderate Republican Sen. Dale Schultz of Richland Center refused to support it.
Venture capital, which is essential to help small businesses grow, has declined drastically in the state over the past year.
But the new committees may not mean much or even be around for long. The Senate isn't scheduled to come back into session until next year. And power could shift again in the November elections, when 16 of the Senate's 33 seats are up for election. Miller is running unopposed, while Cullen doesn't face an election until 2014.