By: Craig Gilbert of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
MILWAUKEE, Wis. – Wisconsin Republican Jim Sensenbrenner, the second longest-serving member of the U.S. House of Representatives, will not run for a 22nd term, he said Wednesday.
Sensenbrenner made his first public announcement Wednesday on “The Mark Belling Show” on WISN-AM.
In a separate interview with the Journal Sentinel, he said, “I think the time has come to basically turn over the page in the 5th District.”
The 76-year-old congressman has long represented the GOP’s geographic base in Wisconsin – the suburban, exurban and rural communities north and west of Milwaukee County that historically turn out in droves for Republican candidates and provide a large share of the party’s activists and political leaders.
Sensenbrenner’s departure after 2020 is likely to draw huge interest from within a district packed with aspiring GOP politicians.
It also makes him the latest of several big-name Republicans to leave the Wisconsin stage: former House Speaker Paul Ryan (who retired after 2018), former Gov. Scott Walker (who was defeated in 2018) and current Rep. Sean Duffy, who announced he would step down this month to focus on the health problems of the baby he and his wife are expecting.
Sensenbrenner said he is not retiring for health reasons or because he is worried about a re-election challenge. He is at least the 15th GOP member of the House to announce retirement this year, a group that includes Duffy.
Sensenbrenner said his decision was also unrelated to serving in the minority, where he has spent virtually half his congressional career, and unrelated to the turbulence of Donald Trump’s presidency.
He plans to serve out his current term and said he will back “the Republican ticket from top to bottom” in 2020.
“I’ve said all along I’d know when the right time came and I’ve come to the conclusion it has,” he said. “There is nobody running against me. Nobody can say they’ve pushed me out. I am doing this on my terms.”
At 42 years, a Wisconsin milestone
Toward the end of next year, Sensenbrenner will surpass former Democratic Rep. Dave Obey as the longest-serving member of Congress ever from Wisconsin – at 42 .
Sensenbrenner served six years as chairman of the Judiciary Committee, where his best-known accomplishment was the USA Patriot Act that was passed after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
He had his hand in numerous other issues that came through that committee, including the Voting Rights Act. While compiling a very conservative voting record, he also worked across the aisle with liberal Democrats on some issues, including civil liberties.
Sensenbrenner also served four years as chairman of the science committee.
The Clinton impeachment
The veteran lawmaker also served as one of the House “managers” in the impeachment of President Bill Clinton in 1998.
The GOP’s internal rules limiting committee chairs to six-years has kept him from leading any House committees since 2007. But Sensenbrenner said he supported term limits on committee chairs and pointed out that he continued serving in the House long after his chairmanships were over. He said he did that in part to “protect” legislation he wrote or helped to pass, such as the Patriot Act.
Sensenbrenner said he does not plan to take sides in a GOP primary for his current seat.
“The only advice I can give to all them is don’t kill each other,” he said of Republicans interested in seeking his seat.
In a statement, former Speaker Ryan said this:
“Jim Sensenbrenner has been a close friend, a supportive colleague, and a mentor of mine for decades. He has provided an amazing example for generations of Wisconsin Republican legislators to follow and showed us how to be effective advocates and representatives.”
, our Republican Party, and most important, our country, in a better place than when I began my service.”
The partisan make-up of Sensenbrenner’s 5th District makes it likely to remain in GOP hands after the 2020.
The district contains some of the highest-turnout Republican communities in America. As a result of his lopsided margins and the district’s high voting rate, Sensenbrenner has in several elections received more votes than any other GOP House candidate in the country. He won re-election in 2018 with 62% of the vote.