By Wendy Underhill

I arrived at Dane County Regional Airport in Madison, Wis., at 6:17 p.m. on April 1. By 7 p.m., I was in the Senate chamber listening to the last half of the final, of four, retirement speeches. Democrats Bob Jauch, Tim Cullen and John Lehman already had spoken. Republican Senator Dale Schultz, who has represented his Richland Center district for 32 years, was on his feet.

Wisconsin Senator Dale Schultz (R)His remarks were humble (“The mirror and my wife keep me grounded”), gracious (giving credit as an exemplar to Senator Fred Risser (D), the nation’s longest serving state legislator), and substantive.

Schultz used his chance—with a room full of powerful people listening—to review his past and outline a vision for a future based on cooperation, civility and bipartisanship. He referred to the GOP as “a party that encouraged and strengthened capitalism while leading the world in protecting and conserving our natural resources and environment.” He listed some of the greats, starting with the usual suspects (Lincoln, Reagan) and continuing with Wisconsin luminaries such as Robert M. La Follette Sr. and Governors Warren Knowles and Tommy Thompson.

“We have to quit thinking of the other side as the enemy,” Schultz said to all the partisans in the room—essentially everyone except a few nonpartisan staff.  That led to this: “Here’s how I see the enemy. The enemy is poverty in a country and in a state that has no business having kids and families go to sleep hungry at night or in their cars.”  The enemy, he said, is also unemployment, under-education, and finally, fear: “The real enemy is fear. We fear what we do not understand. We fear those who are different. We fear losing what we have.”

Those real enemies are the enemies for all. “That’s why we all come here—Democrat and Republican alike—to build a better future for Wisconsin. I’ve learned it can be even brighter if we allow compromise to trump conformity and capitulation. And it’s also a lot more fun.”

As Schultz sat down, everyone else stood, giving him a rousing standing ovation.  During the applause I saw the majority leader, Scott Fitzgerald, confer quickly with the minority leader, Chris Larson. Fitzgerald then did what needed to be done:  He said that with a call for bipartisan cooperation such as Schultz just made, he’d forgo giving his own prepared remarks. The gavel came down and the evening’s proceedings—and this year’s session—closed.  It was time for a post-session reception, honoring the combined 94 years of service provided by Schultz, Jauch, Lehman and Cullen.  

Wendy Underhill is NCSL's state liaison to Wisconsin. Email Wendy

Posted in: Legislators
Actions: E-mail | Permalink |

Subscribe to the NCSL Blog

Click on the RSS feed at left to add the NCSL Blog to your favorite RSS reader. 

Blog Archives | By Category

About the NCSL Blog

This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.


Share this: 
We are the nation's most respected bipartisan organization providing states support, ideas, connections and a strong voice on Capitol Hill.

NCSL Member Toolbox


7700 East First Place
Denver, CO 80230
Tel: 303-364-7700 | Fax: 303-364-7800


444 North Capitol Street, N.W., Suite 515
Washington, D.C. 20001
Tel: 202-624-5400 | Fax: 202-737-1069

Copyright 2015 by National Conference of State Legislatures