That will make the fall elections simultaneously more and less interesting. Pundits were speculating that Schultz might run as an independent instead of a Republican, raising the specter of a three-way race. On the other hand, with Schultz out and the 17th Senate District seat more open, we may see more candidates than Rep. Howard Marklein (R–Spring Green) and Democrat Ernie Wittwer of Hillpoint.
Schultz is one of 18 Senate Republicans, as opposed to 15 Senate Democrats. Imagine this scenario: Schultz runs as an independent and wins, and Republicans lose one of their Senate seats. That would leave the Senate with 16 Democrats, 16 Republicans, and Schultz. Schultz would have become the Senate's most powerful member, and maybe we 17th Senate District residents might finally get something from our state tax dollars. (Four-lane U.S. 61?)
Schultz was, first and foremost, a successful politician, from his winning the 50th Assembly District seat in 1982. Schultz then won the primary and special elections to replace Sen. Richard Kreul (R–Fennimore) in 1991, and Schultz never failed to win with less than 57 percent of the vote thereafter. That fact alone made him the favorite to win in November, as a Republican or an independent.
I’ve known Schultz since that 1991 Senate run. Dale Schultz has always struck me as being about, first and foremost, Dale Schultz. He is certainly not the only politician for which that is the case. That’s not even necessarily a bad thing, since reelection generally requires following the general mood of your district, though that’s an increasing challenge in these days of zero-sum increasingly polarized politics. (That is a challenge as well for anyone who wants to be the 17th District's senator, given its length, from the southern end of Grant County clear up to near Wisconsin Rapids.)
On the one hand, Schultz claimed to have, according to his own website, a “98.7 percent Republican” voting record in one session of the Legislature, and on the other hand he voted against his party on the Act 10 public employee collective bargaining bill and on expanding mining. The former vote can be explained by the presence of UW–Platteville, Southwest Wisconsin Technical College, the Boscobel prison and UW–Richland in his Senate district. His vote against Indian tribal mascots is less understandable given the presence in his district of Belmont (Braves), Potosi (Chieftains), Riverdale (also Chieftains), Wisconsin Dells (Chiefs), Lancaster (Flying Arrows), Black Hawk (Warriors) and River Valley (Blackhawks).
Schultz is one of three Republican senators — the others are Sens. Luther Olsen (R–Ripon) and Mike Ellis (R–Neenah) — who like to engage in a little not-singing-from-the-hymnal mischief when the GOP controls the Senate. None of those three deviate from the playbook when the GOP is the Senate's minority party, but when the GOP is in charge, Schultz, Olsen and Ellis like to channel their inner mavericks. There's nothing wrong with that, and in fact more, not less, of that is needed in Madison, but that also means within the Democratic Party, and there is no sign of that now.
I’m not a fan of how Schultz announced his retirement. WISC-TV in Madison (which is not based in the 17th Senate District) broke the news Jan. 26, then Schultz’s office sent a rather churlish news release with these two statements:
• About his fellow legislators: “It’s a trap of wanting to do good but being coerced and convinced that the only way to accomplished that is to conform with outside pressures and agendas. As a result of the Citizens United Supreme Court decision allowing unlimited special interest monies to be injected into campaigns, compromise has given way to partisan conformity, and that’s not something in which I’m willing to participate.”
• About Marklein: “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. 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.”
First: Schultz’s revelation about special interest money is interesting given that Schultz became a state senator through special interest money — specifically teacher union money, which went to Schultz instead of his primary opponent, Rep. David Brandemuehl (R–Fennimore), who was a 20-year school board member. Schultz supported getting school taxes off property tax bills, something that you’ll notice from The Journal last week hasn’t been accomplished.
Second: Leaving aside the fact that Marklein’s constituents are also Schultz’s constituents (including, by the way, Marklein himself), that “compromise” giving way to “partisan conformity” dates back well before Citizens United to the days when Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen (R–Waukesha) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Chvala (D–Madison) exerted iron-fisted control over their chambers. Since Schultz was in the Senate at the time (the 1990s), he should remember that. The problem of too much money in politics (however you define that) is the logical result of government that does too much and has too much power.
I guess we know now how Schultz feels about his constituents with more conservative views than his. Schultz is engaging in what he’s complaining about when he dismisses Marklein’s views, and therefore the views of anyone who believes in tea party (however you define that) views. Perhaps Schultz is engaging in selective listening, or perhaps those with more conservative views than Schultz's don't feel Schultz will listen to them. Compromise by itself is neither good nor bad; whether a specific compromise is worthwhile depends on the result of said compromise.
Schultz’s most important accomplishments are his advocacy of the U.S. 151 four-lane and WisconsinEye, the C-SPAN of state government. The former is the single most important economic development initiative in the history of Southwest Wisconsin. The latter allows taxpayers to see how decisions on how their tax dollars are spent are made.
Schultz’s career represents two things wrong about politics. The first is the excess authority of the political parties, particularly their leadership. Political parties and candidates are right or wrong on an issue based on that particular issue. Politicians should be supported to the extent they vote the right way, and no more than that.
The second is that Schultz spent more than half his life in state politics, and was handsomely compensated (legislators now make $49,943 a year, which is about twice the average Wisconsinite’s income) for winning elections. Long history demonstrates that the longer a politician is in office, the more important the politician thinks he or she is, the bigger role he or she thinks government should have, and the more out of touch the politician gets with his or her constituents. The Founding Fathers intended for people to serve in office and then leave, not to make a career out of elective office.
This will strike Schultz supporters as not really a tribute to Schultz. The tribute to Schultz is that he got elected to the Senate in the first place, and then reelected five times.
We in the news media spend far too much time uncritically covering politicians at every level of government, repeating what they say without evaluating or analyzing the truth or accuracy, or lack thereof, of what they say. There is no way that a challenger of an incumbent can ever get comparable news coverage to his or her incumbent opponent, because politicians get covered every day, and challengers don't.
To his credit, Schultz decided for himself it was time to leave. Term limits applied by the elected official to himself or herself are preferable to statutory term limits, and self-applied term limits are better than having the voter impose term limits upon yourself.