U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, one of the longest-serving members of Congress, won’t seek re-election in 2020, he said Wednesday.
The announcement from the Wisconsin congressional delegation’s senior member heralds the pending conclusion of a 40-year career in Washington and triggers the start of what will likely be a crowded Republican race for the GOP-friendly seat.
“When I began my public service in 1968, I said I would know when it was time to step back,” Sensenbrenner said in a statement. “After careful consideration, I have determined at the completion of this term, my 21st term in Congress, it will be that time.”
Sensenbrenner, 76, first made the announcement on Milwaukee’s WISN-AM.
The news represents a changing of the guard for Wisconsin’s congressional delegation.
Just last week, a Republican colleague, U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy, announced he would resign in September due to complications with his soon-to-be-born ninth child.
Sensenbrenner was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1978, after having served in the state Legislature for a decade.
Shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, Sensenbrenner introduced the Patriot Act, which ultimately was signed into law later that year by President George W. Bush and provided wire-tapping authority to the National Security Agency. He later authored the bipartisan USA Freedom Act to address abuses in bulk data collection by the NSA.
Sensenbrenner also played a pivotal role in child abduction prevention rules to enhance the AMBER Alert system, as well as expanded coverage of the national sex offender registry.
If he completes his term as planned, Sensenbrenner will surpass 21-term former Democratic Congressman David Obey in late 2020 for the longest tenure in the chamber from Wisconsin, according to nonpartisan political news website Smart Politics. Obey served from 1969 to 2011.
Sensenbrenner received praise from several current and former officials, including former Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan. U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Oshkosh, said in a statement “Wisconsin is a better place because of your service.”
Several Republicans could line up for the seat, which is generally considered a Republican stronghold. The nonpartisan Cook Political Report estimates the 5th Congressional District votes 13 points more Republican than the national average. The district covers portions of Milwaukee, Waukesha, Dodge, and Walworth counties and all of Jefferson and Washington counties.
Potential Republican candidates include Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau; former Sen. Leah Vukmir, R-Brookfield, who ran for U.S. Senate in 2018; Sen. Chris Kapenga, R-Delafield; Sen. Dale Kooyenga, R-Brookfield; Kevin Nicholson, who ran for U.S. Senate in 2018; former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch; and Waukesha County Executive Paul Farrow.
In a statement, Fitzgerald praised Sensenbrenner and didn’t rule out a run.
“The people of the Fifth Congressional District have benefited from Jim’s strong conservative voice for years, and now more than ever they deserve another strong conservative voice fighting on their behalf in Washington,” Fitzgerald said.
On the Democratic side, entrepreneur and former Navy veteran Tom Palzewicz, who ran an unsuccessful bid against Sensenbrenner in 2018, said he intends to try for the seat again in 2020.
Palzewicz said he wants to prioritize climate change, gun violence and access to health care, among other things.