Wisconsin Wave

Uniting Wisconsinites for democracy and shared prosperity

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Remember Dale Schultz? He was the one Republican senator in Wisconsin to vote against Gov. Scott Walker's anti-worker Budget Repair Bill.

Well, with his Republican Party now clinging to a 17-16 majority in the state Senate, Schultz is now going to be the most popular man in Madison, and de facto majority leader of the Wisconsin Senate, simply by virtue of not being a Scott Walker Republican.

Consider this: If Walker tried to pass something like his last budget again, Democrats would have enough votes in the state Senate to kill the bill outright. There would be no running to Illinois to deny quorum, no protracted battle of several weeks; the Senate could vote, and with Jessica King and Jennifer Shilling to go with Schultz and the 14 incumbent Democrats, they would have a functional majority.

So even as a Republican, Schultz, not Republican leader Scott Fitzgerald, is the most powerful man in the Senate—he is the balance of power in Wisconsin, and if he's interested, he could team with Democrats to form a majority coalition, or even switch parties outright.

Minority Democrats have built coalitions to elect moderate Republican leadership before—Texas House Speaker Joe Straus is a legacy of one such coalition, having been first elected Speaker with predominantly Democratic support. Former Tennessee House Speaker Kent Williams is another example.  

Granted, Schultz will be courted by Republicans (at least those in Madison) on legislation as hard as he's courted by Democrats. So it's possible that none but the most odious Scott Walker legislation (like the Budget Repair bill) will be spiked in the Senate. But that's a lot better than the situation yesterday.

Even if Schultz did form a coalition with Democrats, it's not as though a lifelong Republican becomes a movement progressive overnight. Nevertheless, it seems his possibilities for career advancement, at least in the short term, are much better with Democrats than with Republicans. And if Schultz really does seek a moderate, bipartisan approach to governance, becoming de facto majority leader is his best shot to ensure that approach actually takes place. Schultz was in fact majority leader before, until 2006, when the Democratic wave swept the Republicans out of leadership. Perhaps he's interested in having the job again.

If he actually did switch parties, he'd again enjoy the title and the big office and all the perks that go with actually being majority leader (one suspects Democratic leader Mark Miller would happily give Schultz the title if it meant the majority).

How would all this affect his reelection? Schultz isn't up for reelection until 2014. Would he have a better chance at reelection as a Democrat? His Senate district went solidly for John Kerry in 2004, and 61 percent for Barack Obama in 2008, so yes, you'd have to think a moderate Republican-turned-Democrat who has already held the seat for 20 years could probably win there.

Certainly, he'd be better off taking his chances with the Democrats than staying a Republican, having already incurred the wrath of the tea party and virtually guaranteed a mouth-breather primary in 2014.

Of course, all this depends on Democrats actually maintaining their numbers with 16 senators. Which is why it's so important for Democratic senators Jim Holperin and Robert Wirch to win their own recalls next Tuesday.

Once they're safely back in the fold, let the courtship of Dale Schultz begin.

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