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Longtime Democratic Wisconsin state senator to retire

Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The 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 go after 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. Neither immediately returned messages Thursday.

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. A message left at his state Capitol office Thursday inquiring about his interest in Hansen’s seat wasn’t immediately returned.

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