Hansen Retirement Triggers Key Battle for Senate Control



By Jessica VanEgeren

January 13, 2020

Dems feel pressure to hold Green Bay seat. First candidate declares.

Democratic Sen. Dave Hansen, and his wife, Jane, are far from strangers to most of the patrons at one of their favorite coffeehouses, The Attic, on Green Bay’s east side.

“I hear you are retiring,” Jim Frisque of Allouez calls out as the couple walks through the door.  “That is a shame.”

Talk quickly flips from politics to the real news of the day; the Packers 28-23 win over the Seattle Seahawks Sunday night.

“What is it called, winning ugly?” Hansen said. “My blood pressure was up for most of that game.”

The Hansens are longtime political fixtures in the greater Green Bay area. Both began serving on city and county boards, respectively, in the mid-1990s, with the senator winning his first bid for Senate District 30 in 2000. The district includes portions of Brown, Oconto and Marinette counties. Green Bay is its largest city.

Hansen announced last week he would not be seeking another term. In the swing state of Wisconsin, this district itself can swing and it often goes red. 

For example, two of the three district assembly members are republican.

Voters also favored President Donald Trump in 2016 by an 11-point margin. During that same election, Hansen defeated his Republican opponent by 2,039 votes, the tightest margin of his senate career.

The slim margin is due, in large part, to the district’s lines being redrawn in 2012.

“Former state Sen. Frank Lasee told me, “This district was drawn to beat you,’” Hansen said Monday. “Well, it didn’t work.”

It could prove a tough hurdle for any Democrat trying to take his place, though.

“It is going to take a young man with some political experience who knows the district, to win this district,” Hansen said. “They will need to have energy.”

Ben Wikler, chair of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, acknowledges it will be tough.

“But if voters are thinking about health care when they cast their ballots, Democrats will win,” said Wikler. “And here’s the thing: healthcare is voters’ number one issue right now.”

That is true for Frisque and his wife, Mary.

Jim Frisque said the couple lives on a fixed income. Each month, $144 is deducted from each of their Social Security checks for healthcare coverage through Medicare. He added he is tired of hearing people and politicians referring to Medicare as an entitlement.

 “I worked at a paper mill for 40 years,” he said. “I earned it. It is not an entitlement.”

Mary Frisque self-identifies as an independent. Jim said he also goes back and forth between the parties. They said they vote in every election.

“Years ago, I looked for which candidate was going to help me the most if they were elected. Now, I’m looking for which candidate is going to hurt me the least,” Jim Frisque said. “I should not have to vote that way.”

Kathy Lefebvre, a Green Bay alder and a Brown County supervisor, said the district can easily go for a Democrat or a Republican. For example, her city district is still largely made up of working-class families employed by the city and county governments.

“It is going to depend on the candidate,” Lefebvre said. “This district can go either way.”

In the most recent non-partisan Green Bay mayoral race, voters elected Eric Genrich, a former Democratic lawmaker who served in the Assembly from 2013 to 2019.

Lefebvre said Genrich’s win should not be seen as a sign a Democratic candidate will have an easy time  filling Hansen’s shoes.

“Eric’s state experience gave him an advantage in that race over his opponents,” she said. “Plus, he is very personable.”

Right now, Republicans hold a 19-14 majority in the Senate. Flipping three seats in November would give them a super-majority, meaning they could override vetoes made by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers.

“We absolutely view the district as ground zero in the fight to protect the veto power that Wisconsinites voted for in 2018,” Wikler said.

Hansen denies that the boundary change to the district map is a reason he is retiring. He and Jane have run nine campaigns over the past 20 years. She has been his campaign manager and treasurer every time. It is time to spend time with his family, he said.

“I’ve been a teacher, a trucker, a state senator and soon I’ll be retired,” Hansen said. “I have lived the American dream.”

And Hansen almost certainly had in mind a particular “young man with some political experience” to succeed him. Shortly after the interview, his nephew Jonathon Hansen, a DePere alder formally announced his entry into the race.




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