MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Longtime Democratic state Sen. Dave Hansen said Thursday that he’ll retire rather than seek re-election this fall, creating an open seat in a Republican-leaning region and making it that much harder for his party to win the majority in the chamber.
Hansen has represented the Green Bay and Marinette areas since 2001, even though the northeastern Wisconsin district is strongly Republican. Known for his bellowing speeches on the Senate floor, he served as majority leader during the 2009-11 legislative session.
Republicans tried to recall him and seven other Democratic senators in 2011 after the caucus fled to Illinois in a futile attempt to block a vote on then-Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s signature bill stripping public employees of their union rights. Hansen survived the recall but the GOP seemed to target his seat during every election cycle, believing he was vulnerable because of the district’s conservative bent.
Hansen said in a statement Thursday that he’ll retire when his current term ends next January. He said he turned 72 in December and wants to spend more time with his family.
“I believe had I chosen to run again I would win,” Hansen said. “But as anyone who knows me will tell you, Jane (his wife) and my family are the most important people in the world to me and it is important to me that I spend more time with them at this stage of our lives.”
Hansen’s decision hurts Democrats’ hopes for making gains in the Senate in November. Republicans currently hold a 19-14 advantage in the chamber. Hansen’s decision to step down means Republicans won’t have to face an incumbent, making their path to capturing his seat easier in a district that already leans their way.
Possible GOP candidates could include state Reps. John Nygren of Marinette, the powerful co-chairman of the Legislature’s finance committee, and John Macco of DePere.
Nygren said in a text that he was focused on his legislative priorities and would “consider any opportunity in coming days.”
Maaco didn’t immediately return a message left at his state Capitol office.
The other state representative in Hansen’s district, Staush Gruszynski of Green Bay, is a Democrat but he’s on the outs with his party after he was accused of sexually harassing a legislative employee.
Democratic leaders have stripped him of his committee assignments and have asked him to resign but he has refused to step down.
Gruszynski said in an email that he’s focused on winning re-election to the Assembly this fall.
Katie Iliff, executive director of the State Senate Democratic Committee, which works to elect Democratic candidates to the Senate, said the party knows retaining Hansen’s seat will be a fight. But Hansen has laid the groundwork in the district, she said.
“We are excited for the opportunity to talk to voters over the net 10 months about Senate Democrats’ vision for the future of Wisconsin,” she said.
Republican state Rep. Bob Kulp, who has represented portions of Marathon, Clark and Wood counties in central Wisconsin since 2013, also said Thursday that he won’t seek re-election this fall. He said in a Facebook post that he never intended to make serving in the Legislature a career and that his family and faith has been “taking a bigger slice of my consciousness lately.”