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Jun 5, 4:12 PM EDT
Democratic Party chairman steps down as lobbyist for AT&T
By SCOTT BAUER Associated Press Writer
MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- Democratic Party Chairman Joe Wineke told Democratic leaders that he will stop lobbying for AT&T on a bill designed to ease the telecommunications company's entry into the state cable TV market.
The move comes after some Wisconsin Democrats called on Wineke to stop lobbying for AT&T or resign his party position.(note: Iwonder who that would be?)
Wineke has insisted he did nothing wrong and said last month that he would not give up his position as a lobbyist or party chairman. He said Tuesday that he changed course because the issue was becoming a distraction within the party.
"I think this issue has been overblown from the first day," Wineke said. "I have not believed I did anything wrong, and I still do not."
Wineke said he plans to seek another two-year term as party chairman at the state Democratic Party convention June 30.
Wineke told Democrats of his decision to stop lobbying at a Saturday meeting of the 2nd District Democratic Party based in Madison, former 2nd District Chair Margaret McEntire said.
"I was shocked, and I was really sorry that it had come to this," she said.
The Eau Claire County Democrats passed a resolution last month calling on Wineke to resign as chairman because of his lobbying work. The Wood County Democrats passed a resolution saying Wineke needs to either serve as chairman or AT&T lobbyist, but not both.
Other similar resolutions were being debated by Democrats elsewhere in the state, including in the Madison-based 2nd District.
Katy Phillips, chairwoman of the Eau Claire County Democratic Party, said she was pleased with Wineke's decision.
"I think he showed a lot of character stepping down from this position," Phillips said.
Wineke defended his lobbying work last month, saying he made it clear that he wasn't speaking for the party when he pushed for the bill designed to ease AT&T's entry into the state cable market.
Wineke said he still supports the bill and believes it will be good for union workers in the state. He said he doesn't expect the controversy over his lobbying to affect its prospects in the Legislature, where it has passed the Assembly and is awaiting debate in the Senate.
The heavily lobbied measure would end the 30-year-old practice of letting local communities negotiate service agreements and instead have the state do it.
Supporters say it will provide competition where there is none and reduce the cost of delivering telecasts. But opponents argue it does not guarantee competition, or competitive pricing, and large telecommunications companies are unlikely to set up shop in more sparsely populated parts of the state.
AT&T spokesman Joe Steele said the decision to resign was Wineke's and the company respects his choice and wishes him the best. Wineke notified AT&T of his decision on Friday, Steele said.
Since taking over as chairman two years ago, Wineke has declined to accept a salary from the party and earns his living as a consultant based out of Verona. He said he was being paid $2,000 a month by AT&T.
On the Net:
Wisconsin Democratic Party: http://www.wisdems.org/
Wisconsin Legislature: http://www.legis.state.wi.us/
AT&T Inc.: http://att.sbc.com