The Dale Schultz Tuck-and-Roll

I will not forget the first time I met Assemblyman Howard Marklein at a Richland County Republican Party Lincoln Dinner. More to the point, I’ll never forget the impression I had of the man: this guy would make a great senator.

It wasn’t just his last name. Sure, “Marklein” is a distinguished sounding name. But thinking like that would put me on the same intellectual plane as voters who put Senator Jennifer Shilling – perhaps the laziest and most intellectually devoid State Senate candidate of 2012 – back into office. Marklein had big ideas, ideas that I listened to as he spoke casually just a few seats away that night.

Dale Schultz may have seen the same qualities in Mr. Marklein, who announced nearly a year ago he’d run against Mr. Schultz in a primary for the 17th Senate seat. Mr. Schultz, under fire from conservatives who feel betrayed by the longtime senator’s votes against legislation popular with other Republicans in the past three years, revealed yesterday he would not seek re-election to the senate. His wording was that he’d retire.

I’ve also met Mr. Schultz. A tall and imposing man, he also carries with him an aura of credibility and dignity. Contrary to the caricatures from the right that portray him as a bought-and-paid-for puppet of the Democrat caucus desperate for a spoiler vote in the Senate, he’s actually a thinker, a veteran of Wisconsin politics since years before I was born. He is a former majority leader and a man whose career is to be respected, even if one disagrees with his recent divergent stands.

The forces of orthodoxy exert a powerful and rueful pull, though. And by voting against Act 10 and the Gogebic mining bill, two measures very important to altering Wisconsin’s course toward bona fide rust belt wasteland status, Sen. Schultz sealed his own political fate.

Dan Kapanke, who represented the 32nd Senate district, bordering Schultz’s to the west, fell on the sword of Act 10. Mr. Schultz decided to dodge that sword by voting “nay” on Act 10, saving his own hide for a period of time by avoiding the kind of recall and political intimidation that cost Mr. Kapanke his job.

Mr. Schultz was on a moving vehicle, one which he jumped off when the speedometer showed too big a number. But by selecting this inflection point in his career of moderation, he stranded himself from the progressive wishes of the Republicans who elected him.

Perhaps Mr. Schultz has simply been prudent by being moderate in his stances in a region that, as Mr. Kapanke’s loss shows, is quite moderate and even drifting blue.

To whit: Mr. Marklein’s 51st Assembly seat is hardly deep red – in fact it’s previously represented by a Democrat; Marklein won his 2012 election by the thin margin of 52-48, prompting questions about his motivations to run for the 17th Senate. Did he decide to get out of that seat before he faced an insurmountable challenge? That is a question is for another day, but it could be instructive.

Mr. Schultz says he won’t rule out running for another office. The Channel 3000 story mentions the possibility he may run for Ron Kind’s congressional district. Though he’d have certain advantages like instant media traction, he would certainly have difficulty gaining traction with grassroots conservatives whose support he would require as basic campaign labor. That group of elbow grease supporters haven’t made any secret that he’s lost their support.

Mr. Schultz has orphaned himself, and with the announcement that he won’t fight for the seat he’s held for decades, his political career is over.

With Mr. Schultz now out of the running for the 17th Senate district, it will be up to Mr. Marklein to explain to voters why he’s the best choice over a heretofore un-publicized Democrat. It’s not an easy district for Republicans, one the Democrats are certain to target – much like the nearby 96th Assembly seat – but one we must win.

Whether it’s Kathleen Vinehout or Howard Marklein in the Senate or Amy Sue Vruwink, Steve Doyle, or Lee Nerison in the Assembly, Western Wisconsin is the hottest battleground in Wisconsin to determine what direction rural Wisconsin will swing in the coming years.

Will the Democrats successfully swindle rural voters into thinking they’re looking out for them? One would certainly hope legislative Republicans, many of whom come from the provinces, er, more populated regions, in the southeast part of the state, will see the significance of stopping the Dems’ conquest of rural Western Wisconsin.

Mr. Marklein must win to stave off the genesis of a Democrat hegemony in Western Wisconsin.

About the writer: Chris Rochester has worked in communications and finance for a state Senate and congressional campaign, consulted on numerous Assembly and local races, and has held leadership roles in his local Republican Party. He's communications director for the MacIver Institute. Commentary here is strictly his own.