Reasons Vary as Many Lawmakers Depart State Office
A slew of people have announced plans to retire from the state Legislature.
Earlier this year, several long-time Senators said they were leaving. Recently, the numbers have been running high in the Assembly.
Nearly 20 open seats may seem like a mass exodus, but the numbers are rather typical. However, there’s speculation about the reasons.
One of the most recent retirees is Republican Rep. Erik Severson of northern Wisconsin. He’s leaving after two terms. Severson says he wants to spend more time with his family, but also, never intended to be a lifelong lawmaker.
"I believe when a person’s been representing an area for awhile they should step aside and let other people come in with different ideas and different plans. The best way to enforce that is to enforce that on yourself. Part of it is my ideals of limited government and not being a full time politician,” Severson says.
Severson is a doctor, so he has another livelihood. So does Democrat Sandy Pasch. She’s a psychiatric nurse and surprised people with her decision to leave. Pasch says she needs to care for her 90-year-old father but, had planned to serve only one more term anyway. She says it’s been frustrating to be in the minority party.
“We have seen incredible harm done to our state in every realm. We have seen a growing wage gap, we have seen less access to health care for people, we have seen cuts to public education, we have seen harms to women’s reproductive choices,” Pasch says.
Each two-year session sees its share of departures, according to Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca. But he suspects that this time around, a few GOP lawmakers who broke rank on certain issues are leaving because they feel forced out.
“I think it’s harder on the Republican side because the tea party has pushed them so far to the right, that more moderate members are questioning whether they even belong in the Republican Party anymore,” Barca says.
The state ushered in a huge freshman class in 2011 - 30 new representatives and eight new senators. Republicans took control of both houses, along with newly-elected Gov. Scott Walker.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos acknowledges that political tensions have lingered at the Capitol ever since Republicans passed Act 10, a short time later. It weakened public unions.
"While there might have been some hard feelings in the previous session, I think a lot of that went away and things pretty much returned to normal, Republicans and Democrats disagreeing on policy, but at the end of the day, respecting each other for the jobs that we do,” Vos says.
So far, 18 Assembly members are leaving this year, stating various reasons. Vos says the number is not alarming, when considering the house has 99 seats.
“In our chamber, probably about one out of five legislators will be new and it’s similar to what it’s been in the last few cycles. So, I think it’s a testament to the fact it’s a citizen legislature, lots of people have careers that they take time off from and they return back to those and go home to their community,” Vos says.
Vos says he’s confident his party will retain 60 Assembly seats. He describes most of the dozen Republicans leaving as conservative, and says the same will follow. As for Democrats, six are stepping aside.