Sen. Dale Schultz (R–Richland Center) will not run for reelection this November, after 23 years in the state Senate.
Schultz announced his decision on WISC-TV (channel 3) in Madison before his office sent out a news release Monday afternoon.
“After much soul searching, prayer, and talking with family and close friends, I realized something,” said Schultz in his news release. “As wonderful and rewarding as the journey has been, there’s simply more to life than being senator.
“I still want to be involved, but I don’t think you have to have ‘S-E-N’ in front of your name to make a difference.”
Schultz counts among his greatest accomplishments the U.S. 151 four-lane expansion, creation of the Lower Wisconsin Riverway, and WisEye, which carries Legislature meetings.
“The Lower Wisconsin Riverway is a great example of Teddy Roosevelt style Republicanism at its best,” said Schultz. “We had folks from the conservation community as well as business and ag all come together to help preserve this natural treasure for generations.
“I’ve always believed government works best when the public is not only involved but in full view of what those in government are doing. WisconsinEye gave us a state version of C-Span which allows for citizens across the state to get an unfiltered view of what goes on and holds us as legislators accountable.”
Schultz is one of three senators to announce their retirements. The others are Sen. Tim Cullen (D–Janesville) and Robert Jauch (D–Poplar).
“The State Senate is losing just the kind of member that it desperately needs to have right now,” said Cullen in a news release. “As a friend and a colleague, I certainly understand and respect Sen. Schultz’s decision. The sad reality is that we seem to have gotten to a point in Madison where representing your district and your conscience takes a back seat to supporting your party. Dale would never embrace that philosophy.
“Dale has certainly left an imprint on this institution. His departure will leave a lasting void in the Legislature.”
Schultz said he and Cullen will be touring the state this year to promote nonpartisan redistricting reform.
“I believe in my gut the only way to truly reform our representative democracy is to change the way we conduct redistricting,” said Schultz. “It’s ludicrous for legislators to choose their voters instead of voters choosing their legislators, and Sen. Cullen and I are just ornery enough to keep making our colleagues uncomfortable until we see real change on behalf of the folks we represent.”
Schultz’s retirement takes away the possibility of a Republican primary Aug. 14 against Rep. Howard Marklein (R–Spring Green), who announced he was running for the 17th Senate District last April.
“Sen. Schultz has dutifully served his constituents in Southwest Wisconsin for over 30 years,” said Marklein in a news release. “During this time, he has been a strong advocate for those in our district. I am proud to have worked together with Sen. Schultz on a number of issues to better our district.
“I applaud Sen. Schultz on a successful career in the State Senate. He will be missed by his colleagues on both sides of the aisle in the Wisconsin State Legislature.”
Schultz, however, refused to endorse Marklein for his current Senate seat.
“Howard made it clear in his announcement challenging me that his top two reasons for doing so were my votes on Act 10 and mining,” said Schultz. “It’s pretty difficult to support someone who’s so out of step with the views of my constituents on major issues they care deeply about.”
When asked if he would endorse anyone else, even someone not yet in the race, it did not sound like anyone else would getting his endorsement, including a Democrat. “I am a Republican,” said Schultz.
“I thought he would run again, possibly as an independent,” said Rep. Travis Tranel (R–Cuba City). “He’s a good friend of mine. I didn’t agree with every vote that he took; he obviously didn’t agree with every vote I took.
“The bottom line is: he did a good job representing his constituents, and he was a true statesman. We’re going to miss him in the state of Wisconsin. He served the people, and that’s not as common as it should be. It’s a sad day.”
Schultz became a target of Republicans outside southwest Wisconsin when he was the only Republican to vote against a bill to reform the state’s iron mining laws so a proposed mine could be built in northwestern Wisconsin. The bill authored by Assembly Republicans lost 17–16, with Schultz and all 16 Senate Democrats voting against it. The group Citizens for Responsible Government announced a recall effort in 2012, but the effort failed.
Schultz also voted against Act 10, the public employee collective bargaining reforms, in 2011. The bill passed the Senate 17–16.
“We have seen lots of anger boil up through the tea party, we saw it in the recalls” of 2012, said Schultz on a visit to Lancaster in April. Schultz pointed to the national Republican Party assessment on the 2012 elections, which showed divisive messaging turned many away from a party that should have done better.
“We need to be more inclusive, we need to expand our horizons, we need to find a way to include more folks in the party,” he said. “I think I am a natural vehicle for doing that, and at the same time I think I stand tall in the party of Abraham Lincoln, of Ronald Reagan, of Teddy Roosevelt.”
Schultz’s campaign blog claimed a “98.7-percent Republican” voting record when Marklein made his announcement last year.
After Marklein’s announcement, Schultz sounded like a candidate. Two weeks ago, Schultz announced his “Four for ’14” legislative agenda, which included protecting the environment, creating new jobs, taking politics out of redistricting, and working on broadband access for rural areas.
“I get up every day thinking I am the luckiest guy in the world, I have the best job. I get to listen to the people and do what I think is right,” said Schultz at the time. “This term has been the most exciting, motivating, stimulating, rewarding term I have ever had.”
When asked about voting against proposals supported by Gov. Scott Walker, Schultz said, “Let me be clear, I am not an adversary to Gov. Walker. We have had a good relationship, and both of us have been around politics long enough to know that today’s opponent will be tomorrow’s ally on an issue basis. … I think we have a productive and good relationship.
Schultz said in April that sometimes both sides have to work together, and that is not a sign of weakness.
“Leadership sometimes is extending my hand and saying that this is not a compromise of my values, but rather an expression of a value that while parties may be important, the country and the people are more important,” he said. “All of this fighting is creating uncertainty, not just for businesses, but for people. After all, 70 percent of economy is consumer spending, and when we feel uncertain, we hold back.”
Schultz was first elected to the 50th Assembly District in 1982. After state Sen. Richard Kreul (R–Fennimore) announced his retirement in 1991, Schultz defeated fellow Rep. David Brandemuehl (R–Fennimore) in the Republican primary, then defeated Democratic Lafayette County Clerk Steve Pickett of Darlington, with 59 percent of the vote, in the general election.
After Schultz’s first run, he was never challenged in a Republican primary. Schultz won his Senate races with 64 percent of the vote in 1994, 70 percent of the vote in 1998, 67 percent of the vote in 2002, 57 percent of the vote in 2006, and 78 percent of the vote over Democrat Carol Beals of Platteville in 2010.
Marklein and Democrat Ernie Wittwer of Hillpoint are the only two candidates as of now. Wittwer is the director of the Midwest Regional University Transportation Center, based at UW–Madison, and an adjunct professor of civil and environmental engineering at UW–Madison. He worked for the state Department of Transportation for 24 years.
The 17th Senate District is one of the largest Senate districts in Wisconsin in land area, extending from the Wisconsin–Illinois state line to the Juneau–Wood county line. The district includes all of Grant, Lafayette, Richland and Juneau counties, and southwestern Green, western and central Iowa, western Sauk and far eastern Monroe counties.
David Timmerman of the Grant County Herald Independent contributed to this story.