Risser and Taylor announce their retirement from Wisconsin Legislature
The country's longest-serving lawmaker, Sen. Fred Risser, and Rep. Chris Taylor, both announced Thursday they would not be seeking re-election. Both are Democrats who represent Madison. (Photo illustration by Jonathon Sadowski)

Rep. Chris Taylor won’t seek his Senate seat and is also leaving the Legislature

It was a one-two combination of retirement announcements that caught Madison by surprise when two prominent lawmakers announced Thursday they would not be seeking another term in office.

Sen. Fred Risser made his announcement shortly before Rep. Chris Taylor, whom many believed would be his successor, announced she also would not be seeking another term in the Legislature.

Risser, 92, is in his 64th year as a Wisconsin lawmaker, making him the longest-serving state or national legislator in the nation’s history. He was first elected to state office in 1956 as a state representative, then moved on to the Senate in 1962. He is the fourth generation of his family to serve in the Legislature, and reportedly the last World War II veteran still serving in any legislative body.

In deciding not to seek re-election, Risser said he was “honored to have had the opportunity to represent the Madison area” in the legislature. 

Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse, said in a statement that Risser has been a “clear and consistent voice for environmental issues, public education, the UW System, and public health.” She said his push for smoking bans in Wisconsin led to the smoke-free laws now in place.

“Fred leaves behind a lasting legacy and has served the state of Wisconsin and his community well during his 64 years of public service,” said Shilling. “He and his wife Nancy live across the street from the Capitol, and I have no doubt he will continue to keep an eye on Wisconsin politics, just from a different vantage point.”

In announcing her decision to leave legislative life, Taylor said, who was first elected in 2011, said “representing the people of my community has been one of the greatest honors of my life.”

Taylor, an attorney, worked for Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin prior to her time in the legislature. She was a consistent advocate for women’s reproductive rights. 

“I tried never to shy away from important, albeit controversial, issues while vocally advocating for the people of my community, and the progressive values and traditions that built our great state,” said Taylor in a statement.  

Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh, described Taylor as a “true force of a legislator that could not and would not be ignored.”

“Her work ethic and commitment to serving her district and advocating on behalf of women’s health, kids, the environment, social justice, and criminal justice is inspiring to many including me,” said Hintz in a statement. “In a job that can test one’s idealism after time, Chris Taylor still brings it every single day.”

Aisha Moe, a graduate of UW-Madison, has announced she will be running for Risser’s seat.

Scot Ross, the former executive director of One Wisconsin Now, thanked Risser for his service and said he would be a “tough act to follow.” Ross has expressed an interest in seeking office since stepping away from One Wisconsin Now more than a year ago. He said he planned to make a decision soon about whether to run for Risser’s seat.

“With Trump in the White House and these Republicans running the state legislature, it won’t be enough to just vote the right way on the Senate floor,” said Ross in an email. “Democrats will want a leader in this district who won’t stop until we get Gov. Evers a Democratic majority in the Senate.