"Icon" and "one-of-a-kind" were among the descriptions of U.S. Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. provided by Republican colleagues after he announced Thursday he will retire from Congress in January of 2021, the end of his current term.
Sensenbrenner, 76, has served in the House of Representatives for 40 years and prior to his election to Congress, served 10 years in the Wisconsin State Legislature. His district covers portions of Milwaukee, Waukesha, Dodge and Walworth counties, and all of Jefferson and Washington counties.
"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, Sensenbrenner has conducted more than 100 town hall meetings each year.
"I have helped countless individuals when they have encountered difficulties with the federal government," he said. "I've taken 23,882 votes on the House Floor, been the lead sponsor or co-sponsor of 4,299 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."
Sensenbrenner said he thinks he is leaving his district, the Republican Party and the country, in a better place than when he began his 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," he said. "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."
State Sen. Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said Thursday Sensenbrenner is a conservative icon in Wisconsin.
"From Reagan to Trump, Jim helped build Southeast Wisconsin into the Republican stronghold that it is today," he said. "He advocated passionately on behalf of the unborn and the disabled. He stood up for taxpayers and was always accessible to his constituents. 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."
State Rep. Cody Horlacher, who represents the 33rd Assembly District, said Sensenbrenner is one-of-a-kind -- a lifelong public servant who always kept his finger on the pulse of his district as a familiar face at town halls and community events.
"Jim championed the conservative movement in southeast Wisconsin from the beginning," Horlacher said, adding Sensenbrenner helped mold the "WOW" counties of Waukesha, Ozaukee and Waukesha into the conservative stronghold they are today. "He was active here locally on reaching out to local and state electors for feedback. That was Jim's strength -- building the team."
Horlacher said when he was first elected in 2014, Sensenbrenner was the first elected official to call and congratulate him.
"Whenever I needed advice or had a shared constituent issue involving a federal issue, Jim was there," he said. "Jim's legacy will be remembered as the patriarch of the modern southeast Wisconsin Republican Party. Whenever there was an issue in need of resolution, Jim has always been there to offer his counsel and advice. And everyone knows, when Jim speaks, you listen. There is a reason why he received more votes than his congressional Republican colleagues, he knew how to build a team and deliver on his promise."
According to Horlacher, another strong point of Sensenbrenner has been his willingness to go to every corner of his district and hear from anyone, even when they vehemently disagreed with him.
"Jim was there to listen, give his position, and tell the person why," Horlacher said. "His knowledge of everything from international relations to domestic tax policy is second to none. He knows because he's done it. He's served the people of Wisconsin for more years of his life than not. He is a true servant to his district and the dean of his congressional delegation we are sincerely going to miss his leadership both here and in Washington."
Sensenbrenner's media relations representative Brit Schiel said her boss has had many accomplishments in his tenure.
"Most notably, he led the passage of the USA Patriot Act, enacted shortly after 9/11," Schiel said. "He subsequently modernized that law with the USA Freedom Act in 2015. He has also worked tirelessly in his support of the Voting Rights Act; his work to reform immigration policy; protection of the rights of people with disabilities through the Americans with Disabilities Act; and his unwavering commitment to protecting the unborn. He is former chairman of both the House Committee on the Judiciary, and the House Committee on Science; he is the second most senior member of the House of Representatives; and the Dean of the Wisconsin Delegation. At the end of the present term, he will have served in Congress longer than anyone in Wisconsin's history."
Sensenbrenner has been married to Cheryl Warren Sensenbrenner for 42 years and they have two adult sons and a 2-year-old grandson.
"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," Sensenbrenner said. "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."