Saying both political parties have lost touch with the progressive people of Wisconsin by catering to special interest groups, state Sen. Bob Jauch, D-Poplar, announced Wednesday he will not seek reelection when his term expires at the end of 2014.
“This government is no longer transparent,” said Jauch, 67. “Special interests have too much power ... no matter which party is in control.”
Jauch added that leaders in both caucuses have stifled efforts to reach across the aisle to compromise.
“I think democracy in this state is at risk. Both sides play way too much to their base,” said Jauch. “Wisconsin is a progressive state. When you begin to lose the center, which is where the public is and wants you to be, democracy is at risk.”
From Poplar, which is near Superior, Jauch was first elected to the Assembly in 1982, with his term beginning in 1983. Four years later he was elected to the Senate. He has a reputation as a talkative lawmaker, with a good sense of humor who believes in reaching across the political aisle to broker compromises.
Wearing a tie with a rainbow and a smiling sun and fighting back tears when making his announcement, Jauch started his press conference Wednesday by joking he was going to take a job with a controversial mining company.
“I’d like to confirm the rumors going around the Capitol are true,” Jauch joked. “I am leaving to become the vice president of government relations for Gogebic Taconite.”
Jauch’s reference to Gogebic seemed appropriate, as the company’s ongoing effort to build a 4.5-mile-long iron ore mine in a portion of his district that includes Ashland and Iron counties has been a controversial topic that has played front and center at the Capitol for the past several years.
Jauch worked with other known moderates Sen. Tim Cullen, D-Janesville, and Sen. Dale Schultz, R-Richland Center, to broker a more environmentally friendly mining bill than the one eventually passed by Republican lawmakers.
Jauch had high praise for both men. When asked if Schultz was going to announce his retirement from the Senate, Jauch said he “wished him well as he made that decision” and described him as a “progressive, practical, problem solver.”
Republicans now control the Senate 18-15.
Jauch also was part of the “Fab 14,” the knickname for the then 14 Senate Democrats who left the state for Illinois for three weeks in a failed attempt to stop a vote in 2011 on Gov. Scott Walker’s controversial bill to strip collective bargaining for most public workers.
The bill sparked mass protests at the Capitol. Jauch and Cullen crossed the border back to Wisconsin in an attempt to reach a deal with Republicans.
During a meeting with a Cap Times reporter at a hotel in Illinois, Jauch said “I am proud of the decision I have made. I think the other 13 are as well.
“We think we have set a precedent for the rest of the nation on how you should deal with disagreement over something as fundamental as workers’ rights,” said Jauch during the Illinois interview.
He again touched on the time in Illinois Wednesday.
“He and I were not trying to cut a deal to vote with Republicans," Jauch said of Cullen. "We were trying to preserve as much of the collective bargaining (rights) as we could. I think in the end, people understood what we were trying to do was the right thing.”
“I am proud of the decision I have made. I think the other 13 are as well,” Jauch said.
He added too many of his colleagues believe that Highway 29, which runs through east-to-west across the state through Wausau, is Wisconsin’s northern border, and they don’t understand the needs of the north. His district includes the Ojibwe tribes and his entire district is ceded territory, meaning different standards regulating hunting, fishing and environmental decisions.
“After traveling almost 750,000 miles and being involved in most of the Legislature’s most contentious issues, including bookends of the violent spear-fishing controversy and the volatile mining debate I have the same passion as I had on the first day, 31 years ago, to fight for the issues that matter to the citizens of the north,” Jauch said. “However, I simply do not have the energy to maintain that commitment in a political landscape where representative democracy is on life support.”
Lawmakers present for the announcement included the representatives from Jauch’s district; Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton; Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca of Kenosha; Sen. Tim Cullen, D-Janesville, and Senate President Mike Ellis, a veteran Republican member of the Senate who has served in the Legislature since 1970.
“We are losing a great senator,” Ellis said following the announcement.