Former Wisconsin Rep. Tom Larson, a Menomonie-area electrician who recently led an effort to modify the state’s electrician-licensing requirements, died on Saturday, exactly a year after announcing he would not seek re-election.
Larson’s death came following a long battle with cancer, according to Olson Funeral Home in Bloomer. He was 69.
Larson was first elected to the Wisconsin Assembly in 2010 and won re-election in both 2012 and 2014. After seeing his health take a turn for the worse last year, he announced he would not be running in the November election.
Besides serving in the state Legislature, Larson was the owner of the Menomonie-based electrical contractor Bear Valley Inc. He opened the business in 1991 after his then- employer, Uniroyal-Goodrich Tire Co., announced it was closing its Eau Claire location, according to Bear Valley’s website.
Larson took a voluntary layoff from Uniroyal and started Bear Valley using little more than $600 and a personal vehicle. His two sons, Roger and John Larson, took over the business in 2012.
Neither Roger nor John could be reached for comment on Monday.
Rep. Kathy Bernier, a Republican from Chippewa Falls whose district borders the area Larson had represented, said her colleague was not known for being outspoken. He rarely participated in debates on the state Assembly floor, and didn’t particularly care for rallies and other public events.
When he did choose to voice an opinion, it was because he had something important to say, said Bernier.
“When Tom spoke, people listened, because he didn’t speak often,” she said.
He also spoke plainly. Bernier noted that he never was afraid to be blunt when laying out his conservative principles, even in settings or situations where other politicians might use a lighter touch.
“Tom had a way of talking and conveying the rural values that he was brought up with,” she said of Larson, who was born in Eau Claire and graduated from Colfax High School.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, a Republican from Rochester, said on Saturday that Larson’s death meant the state Legislature had lost a “true statesman.”
“Tom was a kind, humble and religious man who was universally liked and respected,” Vos said in a written statement.
Rep. Rob Summerfield, a Republican from Bloomer who represents the same district as Larson did during his tenure in office, said the loss will be felt throughout the community.
“I will always remember him as a man who loved life, and lived it to the fullest,” Summerfield said in a statement. “Whether it be through his devotion to his family, friends, and faith, or his commitment to public service, Tom’s legacy will live on.”
One of Larson’s most lasting contributions from his time in the state Assembly will no doubt prove to be the modifications he helped make to Wisconsin’s electrician-licensing standards. Before 2014, state law had not set any sort of licensing requirements for electricians.
The new standards that began applying to electricians that year were originally scheduled to take effect in 2013. The date was pushed back after lawmakers expressed concerns that the change could prove harmful to nonprofit groups such as Habitat for Humanity and manufacturers who might have factory employees perform simple electrical work from time to time.
Following the decision to delay the start date by a year, Larson was turned to by other state lawmakers to figure out how the licensing standards could be modified without undermining their original purpose. Larson’s answer came in the form of a series of exemptions.
Some lawmakers, for instance, were worried that people who had worked successfully for decades as electricians might be forced out of the trade simply because they had become so rusty at test-taking that they couldn’t pass a licensing examination. The result was a grandfathering exemption applying to electricians who were born before 1956 and who had 15 years of experience.
Bernier said she spoke with Larson about the state’s electrical-licensing regulations just a few months ago. She said he had expressed some regret, saying that perhaps too many electricians were being exempted.
Bernier said Larson believed that the standards could be tightened by increasing the number of years of experience an electrician needed to have to qualify for grandfathering.Follow @alexzank