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Legislature Shaping Up To Look Much Different Next Year

By Misha Lee, MHA Wisconsin Lobbyist

The Wisconsin state legislature is shaping up to look considerably different next year due to a recent rash of legislative and leadership retirements ahead of the fall elections. A handful of incumbent retirements at the conclusion of every two-year session is nothing out of the ordinary, but the sheer volume of retirements this time around (22 in total at the moment), along with a few notable names, has been unexpected. Despite this, Republicans are expected to retain control of both chambers next year, but the caucuses will look much different when session kicks off next January.

Many of the changes facing the Legislature are from retirements with one potential departing lawmaker resulting from a state senator being adversely carved out of his current senate district because of a newly drawn district arising from reapportionment. The Wisconsin Supreme Court is currently reviewing the new districts and will likely render its decision sometime in April. Every ten years states conduct a process known as redistricting where new legislative district boundaries are drawn based on updated U.S. Census data. There are also nine legislators that are leaving their current positions to run for higher office. In total, 13 Republicans and 9 Democrats are either retiring or running for another office, and there may be a few more announcements yet to come.

What is most noticeable about the latest round of retirements is that there is an unusually large number of them that serve or have served in top leadership positions in their respective caucuses. For instance, Senate Democratic Minority Leader Janet Bewley announced that she is not running for reelection which will require Senate Democrats to choose a new leader. So far two front runners to replace her have emerged and both are from Madison - State Senators Melissa Agard and Kelda Roys, both recently elected to the Senate in 2020. Also of significance, Senate Democrats are losing a longtime notable colleague to retirement - State Senator Jon Erpenbach (D-Middleton) has served since 1998 and previously led the caucus both as its director and as Minority Leader. Another longtime member of the Senate, Republican Jerry Petrowski (R-Marathon), also elected to the Legislature in 1998, is serving his final term before he steps down to return to private life. In the State Assembly, Majority Leader Jim Steineke (R-Kaukauna) who has served in the Assembly GOP leadership since 2013, announced he is leaving the Legislature for other opportunities. And State Representative Gordon Hintz (D-Oshkosh) stepped down as Assembly Democratic Minority Leader earlier this year only to reveal shortly afterwards that he would not run for reelection so he could spend more time with his family. Hintz's stepping down triggered leadership elections this month of an entirely new, young and somewhat inexperienced slate of leaders in the Assembly Democratic caucus.

The departure of many of these incumbent lawmakers certainly leaves a void of institutional knowledge and experience in the Legislature which could present challenges next session with ease of governance and certain policy making decisions. Time will tell. But in the meantime, get ready for a busy midterm election season as the campaigns gear up for the August primary and November general election.

Here is a current listing of legislative retirements to date:

U.S. House of Representatives
  • District 3 - Ron Kind (D-Wisconsin) - Retiring
State Senate (7)
  • District 5 - Dale Kooyenga (R-Brookfield) - Redistricted
  • District 15 - Janis Ringhand (D-Beloit) - Retiring
  • District 25 - Janet Bewley (D-Mason) - Retiring
  • District 27 - Jon Erpenbach (D-Middleton) - Retiring
  • District 23 - Kathy Bernier (R-Chippewa Falls) - Retiring
  • District 19 - Roger Roth (R-Appleton) - Running for Lt. Governor
  • District 29 - Jerry Petrowski (R-Marathon) - Retiring
State Assembly (15)
  • District 5 - Jim Steineke (R-Kaukauna) - Retiring
  • District 6 - Gary Tauchen (R-Bonduel) - Retiring
  • District 10 - David Bowen (D-Milwaukee) - Running for Lt. Governor
  • District 13 - Sara Rodriguez (D-Brookfield) - Running for Lt. Governor
  • District 31 - Amy Loudenbeck (R-Clinton) - Running for Secretary of State
  • District 45 - Mark Spreitzer (D-Beloit) - Running for Senate
  • District 52 - Jeremy Thiesfeldt (R-Fond du Lac) - Retiring
  • District 54 - Gordon Hintz (D-Oshkosh) - Retiring
  • District 55 - Rachel Cabral-Guevara (R-Appleton) - Running for Senate
  • District 59 - Tim Ramthun (R-Campbellsport) - Running for Governor
  • District 68 - Jesse James (R-Altoona) - Running for Senate
  • District 74 - Beth Meyers (D-Bayfield) - Retiring
  • District 79 - Dianne Hesselbein (D-Middleton) - Running for Senate
  • District 82 - Ken Skowronski (R-Franklin) - Retiring
  • District 84 - Mike Kuglitsch (R-New Berlin) - Retiring


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