Wisconsin state Sen. Dale Schultz, R-Richland Center, will not ride off quietly into the sunset.
In an appearance on the Devil’s Advocate radio show (The Mic/92.1 FM) last week, Schultz told hosts Mike Crute and Dominic Salvia that his party’s support for a series of election law changes was indefensible.
“I am not willing to defend them anymore,” he explained when Salvia asked why Republicans sought to limit the number of voting hours a municipality could offer. “I’m just not and I’m embarrassed by this.”
Since announcing his retirement in the face of a tough primary challenge from conservative state Rep. Howard Marklein, R-Spring Green, the Republican iconoclast has become more strident in criticizing the party in which he has made a political career. Schultz has served as a legislator from southwestern Wisconsin since 1983, including two stints as Senate majority leader in 2003 and 2005.
Last week, Schultz argued that there were no legitimate justifications for some of the election reforms pushed by Republicans.
“It’s all predicated on some belief there is a massive fraud or irregularities, something my colleagues have been hot on the trail for three years and have failed miserably at demonstrating,” he said.
However, the suggestion that his party holds a sincere but misguided belief constituted one of Schultz’s gentler criticisms of the GOP. He hinted that Republicans are trying to gain an electoral advantage by depressing voter turnout.
“It’s just sad when a political party has so lost faith in its ideas that it’s pouring all of its energy into election mechanics,” Schultz said. “We should be pitching as political parties our ideas for improving things in the future rather than mucking around in the mechanics and making it more confrontational at the voting sites and trying to suppress the vote.”
Although Schultz voted for the voter ID bill passed by the Legislature in 2011, now tied up in the courts, he said he now believes that a lack of access to the polls poses a far greater threat to the integrity of state elections than voter fraud.
The course his Republican colleagues are charting, he said, is a depressing departure from the legacy set by those who championed voting rights during Reconstruction and later during the Civil Rights Era.
“In the spirit of the champion of the 1957 Voting Rights Act, I have been trying to send a message that we are not encouraging voting, we are not making voting easier in any way, shape or form with these bills,” he explained. “Back in 1957 with the leadership of Dwight Eisenhower, Republicans were doing that. And that makes me sad, frankly.”
Later, Schultz attacked a bill aimed at helping companies escape asbestos litigation that has been criticized by groups representing veterans, who account for a disproportionate number of those suffering from mesothelioma, a cancer linked to asbestos exposure.
“This bill is certainly a slap in the face at the very least to some of the people who gave some of the most vital years of their life in the service of their country,” he said.
So far Marklein is the only Republican candidate for the 17th Senate seat that Schultz will vacate after this year, although State Senate Democratic Committee executive director Beau Stafford said last week that a moderate candidate, who he declined to name, might challenge Marklein in the primary.
Ernie Wittwer is the only declared Democratic candidate in the race, although Pat Bomhack, a law student who is currently a candidate for the Assembly seat that Marklein is vacating, is rumored to be considering leaving that race to run for Senate instead.
Schultz has only said that he will not back Marklein. Whether or how he gets involved in the race remains unclear.