Sen. Schultz exits, shaking his head

Dale Schultz tells a story he heard about a recent meet­ing of Repub­li­cans in the state’s 6th con­gres­sional district.

Besides over­whelm­ingly pass­ing a res­o­lu­tion against two GOP state law­mak­ers, Sen. Luther Olsen and Rep. Steve Kestell, over their sup­port for Com­mon Core edu­ca­tion stan­dards, atten­dees at this March 22 event affirmed Wisconsin’s right to secede from the union.

As Schultz relates, one attendee objected: “Wait a minute, we’re the party of Abra­ham Lin­coln” — who, as a mat­ter of his­tor­i­cal fact, was not a big fan of seces­sion. Some­one else then rose to crit­i­cize Lincoln.

Schultz, 60, a Repub­li­can who is step­ping down after 32 years in the Leg­is­la­ture, most as a state sen­a­tor, is dumb­founded: “Who’d have ever thought you’d be at a Repub­li­can func­tion and have to defend Abra­ham Lincoln?”

If it’s ironic that Lin­coln is hav­ing a hard time find­ing accep­tance within the party of Lin­coln, it’s no less so that Schultz him­self has achieved out­sider sta­tus. In the mid-2000s, he was twice elected by his Repub­li­can col­leagues as Sen­ate major­ity leader. Now, had he sought a sev­enth Sen­ate term, he faced an oppo­nent from within the GOP, state Rep. Howard Marklein.

Dale Schultz at his farm near Rich­land Cen­ter. Mike DeVries/The Cap­i­tal Times

Schultz has bro­ken ranks with his fel­low GOP sen­a­tors — all of them — on a host of issues. These include Act 10 changes to col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing, a min­ing bill that weak­ened envi­ron­men­tal reg­u­la­tions and, most recently, bills to restrict early vot­ing and make it harder for lit­i­gants, includ­ing vet­er­ans, to sue over asbestos exposure.

More­over, Schultz has been openly crit­i­cal of his party and the forces he believes are cor­rupt­ing the polit­i­cal sys­tem. Chief among them: The vast infu­sions of cam­paign cash.

I think that as the process has got­ten more dri­ven by money, polit­i­cal par­ties are pay­ing more atten­tion to where the money comes from,” Schultz says. Peo­ple able to spend vast amounts are “drown­ing out every other voice.”

While he believes he could have been re-elected, despite Marklein’s size­able fundrais­ing advan­tage, Schultz laments that the days in which a can­di­date could feel secure with “hav­ing $100,000 or $200,000 in the bank” are past. Now an out­side inter­est group can “show up and spend a half a mil­lion dol­lars trash­ing you and it’s game over.”

In response to such pres­sures, Schultz says many politi­cians “have sur­ren­dered the right to rep­re­sent their con­stituents.” Mon­eyed inter­ests, includ­ing well-funded groups push­ing polit­i­cal agen­das, have taken over the process.

Now they show up with a bill drafted, and they expect us to pass it with­out think­ing about it,” Schultz says, cit­ing the min­ing bill as an example.

Schultz, of Rich­land Cen­ter, says he lis­tened to his dis­trict on Act 10 and the min­ing bill, and even changed his posi­tion on Voter ID, which he backed in 2011, after hear­ing from con­stituents who “don’t think voter fraud is a huge problem.”

He thinks GOP sup­port for such mea­sures con­veys that “we don’t feel our ideas are attrac­tive enough” to win elec­tions, and hence must make it harder for some peo­ple to vote. He sees this, too, as con­trary to Repub­li­can her­itage, exem­pli­fied by Pres­i­dent Eisenhower’s sup­port for vot­ing rights.

In a recent col­umn, Schultz also inveighed against what he feels is exces­sive par­ti­san­ship, which demands ortho­doxy to party posi­tions and results in the sides view­ing each other as “the enemy.”

So what’s Schultz’s solu­tion? He cites cam­paign finance reform and non­par­ti­san redis­trict­ing, both of which he’s cham­pi­oned, with­out suc­cess. He faults Democ­rats for not doing more on these issues when they were in charge.

Now he believes it will take pres­sure from the elec­torate to make these things happen.

What’s needed, quite frankly, is a renewed sense of cit­i­zen­ship,” Schultz says. “Maybe things are going to have to get worse before peo­ple wake up and seize the day.”

Schultz plans to be part of this process, as a pri­vate citizen.

Bill Lued­ers is the Money and Pol­i­tics Project direc­tor at the Wis­con­sin Cen­ter for Inves­tiga­tive Jour­nal­ism ( The Cen­ter pro­duces the project in part­ner­ship with Map­Light.
The Cen­ter col­lab­o­rates with Wis­con­sin Pub­lic Radio, Wis­con­sin Pub­lic Tele­vi­sion, other news media and the UW-Madison School of Jour­nal­ism and Mass Com­mu­ni­ca­tion. All works cre­ated, pub­lished, posted or dis­sem­i­nated by the Cen­ter do not nec­es­sar­ily reflect the views or opin­ions of UW-Madison or any of its affiliates.

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