Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI05) announced Wednesday that this is his last term in the House of Representatives. Republicans can expect a very competitive primary to replace him in this conservative district.

Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI05) announced Wednesday that this is his last term in the House of Representatives. Sensenbrenner, who was first elected to Congress in 1978, made the announcement in a radio interview on the Mark Belling Show on 1130 AM.

Following the interview, the congressman released the following statement on Wednesday:

“When I began my public service in 1968, I said I would know when it was time to step back. After careful consideration, I have determined at the completion of this term, my 21st term in Congress, it will be that time.

“For 40 years I have held over 100 town hall meetings each year; I have helped countless individuals when they have encountered difficulties with the federal government; I’ve taken 23,882 votes on the House Floor; been the lead sponsor or co-sponsor of 4299 pieces of legislation; ushered 768 of them through the House for passage, and watched as 217 of them have been signed into law by six different presidents.

“I think I am leaving this district, our Republican Party, and most important, our country, in a better place than when I began my service.

“It has been my privilege to serve the people of Southeast Wisconsin and I have found true fulfillment in all the challenges and many accomplishments that have peppered my long career. It is rare when life presents the perfect opportunity to make an impact in a way that has been so meaningful. I am forever grateful.

“I will have many more things to say as I serve out my final term, but I will start here by sincerely thanking, first, my family, along with my supporters, my colleagues, and my staff. The many people who have supported my career have mostly gone uncelebrated, but I will purposefully set out in the next year to say my thanks and let them know I could not have done it alone. I look forward to finishing strong and beginning my next chapter.”

The announcement by Sensenbrenner follows the announcement by his colleague Rep. Sean Duffy (R-WI07) that he will be resigning from Congress on September 23, making Wisconsin a battleground for the control of the House of Representatives in 2020 as well as a key state in the presidential campaign. Duffy’s replacement will be determined in a special election to be called by Gov. Tony Evers, but that person will still have to run for re-election next year for a full term.

"The line to run for Congress forms to the right."

Sensenbrenner was first elected to public office in 1968 when he became a member of the state Assembly. He served in the state Senate from 1975 to 1979. In 1978, Sensenbrenner defeated Susan Engeleiter in an acrimonious fight between the conservative and moderate wings of the Republican Party in the congressional primary. Winning the Republican nomination for congress led to a 41-year career in Washington D.C., a living argument against term limits.

While a member of congress, Sensenbrenner was known for his “town hall” meetings in the district, both for the frequency and the sometimes tense confrontations. Nonetheless, the often acerbic congressman continued with the frequent town hall meetings even when his Republican colleagues chose to avoid the confrontations with the leftist activists that would come to the meetings and be disruptive.

Sensenbrenner will probably be remembered most for his role in the impeachment of President Bill Clinton for perjury 1998-99. As a member of the House Judiciary Committee, Sensenbrenner was one of the House “managers” of the case against Clinton in the U.S. Senate.

Sensenbrenner also served as a mentor to the younger members of the Republican delegation to Congress from Wisconsin, including former Speaker of the House Paul Ryan. Sensenbrenner’s encouragement pushed Ryan to run for House Speaker in 2015.

In addition to being the longest-serving member of the Wisconsin congressional delegation, Sensenbrenner had extraordinary luck playing the lottery, including winning $250,000 in 1997.

Sensenbrenner’s Republican colleagues in the Wisconsin congressional delegation said he would be missed.

“His relentless commitment to both listen to and serve Southeast Wisconsin is what has made him an outstanding legislator for 50 years,” said Rep. Bryan Steil (R-WI01). “From leading efforts to keep America safe after 9/11 to serving as a fiscal watchdog constantly looking out for taxpayers, Jim has been a stalwart public servant. While his presence will be deeply missed in Congress, his reputation for doing the right things for the right reasons will long outlast his tenure. I will miss serving with Jim in the House.”

Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-WI08) agreed with Steil.

“Over his four decades in Congress, Jim Sensenbrenner has demonstrated how to represent the people of Wisconsin with honor and distinction,” Gallagher said. “He has been an instrumental voice in the key policy debates of our time, and his passion, expertise, and wisdom will be greatly missed in the House of Representatives. I am proud to call Jim a friend and am grateful for all that I have learned from serving with him in Congress.”

In an interview with The MacIver Institute, Rep. Glenn Grothman (R-WI06) commented on the longevity of Sensenbrenner’s service in Congress.

“I know people talk about term limits but it’s always good in an institution like Congress, as in any working institution, to have some people who have been there a longer period of time so they can talk to us about why we did something or why we didn’t do something 15 or 20 or even 30 years ago,” Grothman said. “In that regard, he’ll be very missed.”

The Republican primary to replace Sensenbrenner could be as acrimonious as the election that put Sensenbrenner in Congress. Many Republicans have waited in vain for Sensenbrenner to announce his retirement. Now that the day has finally come, voters in Wisconsin’s Fifth Congressional District could have a plethora of Republican candidates to choose from especially given the conservative tilt of the district.

Among the possible GOP candidates to replace Sensenbrenner: Former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, Waukesha County Executive Paul Farrow, state Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, former state Sen. Leah Vukmir (the GOP candidate for U.S. Senate in 2018), state Senators Dale Kooyenga & Chris Kapenga, former U.S. Senate candidate Kevin Nicholson, and former state Sen. Rich Zipperer (currently Steil’s chief of staff) who served in Gov. Scott Walker’s administration and in Sensenbrenner’s office as district director.

Kleefisch thanked Sensenbrenner on Twitter for his support of the Women’s Suffrage Centennial Commission:

Vukmir issued a statement on social media thanking the congressman for his service.

Nicholson, Vukmir’s opponent in the 2018 U.S. Senate primary, issued a statement on Twitter saying he is considering a run.

“There will be time to make a decision about this race later,” Nicholson said. “For tonight, our family sends our best wishes to Congressman Sensenbrenner and his family.”

Kooyenga and Kapenga also reacted to the news on Twitter:

Democrat Tom Palzewicz, who lost to Sensenbrenner in 2018, already announced he is running.

The line forms to the right for possible candidates in this conservative district. Even as you’re reading this, there is jockeying behind the scenes to line up support and to try to get other candidates to sit out. Given the temptation of a possible lifelong seat in Congress, depending on redistricting following the 2020 census, it’s going to be hard for Republicans with ambition in the district to let this opportunity just pass them by.

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