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A conservative lawmaker known for authoring controversial bills reflecting his religious views announced Tuesday he is retiring after two terms.

Rep. Jesse Kremer, R-Kewaskum, announced his decision from the Assembly floor. He is the first member of the Legislature this year to announce his retirement. An Assembly and Senate seat also remain open after two GOP lawmakers took jobs in Gov. Scott Walker’s administration.

“The difference between a politician and a statesman is that a politician thinks about the next election while the statesman thinks about the next generation,” Kremer said in a statement, quoting American theologian James Freeman Clarke. “I, for one, have strived to fall into the latter, a statesman, rather than the former, a politician.”

The announcement comes as Democrats are hoping for what could be a wave election in November given the unpopularity of Republican President Donald Trump.

A larger-than-usual number of Republicans have already announced they are retiring from Congress.

So far there hasn’t been any indication of a mass exodus of Republicans from the Legislature.

However, a Democrat won a surprise victory in last week’s special state Senate election in northwest Wisconsin by more than 10 points in a district Republicans have held since 2001 and won by 26 points in November 2016.

Walker said the result should be a wake-up call for Republicans.

Kremer didn’t face a Democratic opponent in his two elections in the conservative district north of Milwaukee. The district borders another Assembly district where a Republican won a special election last week with 57 percent of the vote after facing no Democratic opposition in the previous two elections.

Doug Hyant, executive director of the Assembly Democratic Campaign Committee, said Democrats had already begun talking to potential candidates in that district before Kremer’s announcement.

“It’s clear our values are resonating in all parts of the state,” Hyant said.

Kremer said in an interview his decision to retire was not affected by the current political climate. He said he is taking a new job as a corporate pilot, a position he began pursuing last summer.

“I think I’m from the reddest district in the state,” Kremer said.

Kremer authored a 2015 law that banned abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

Other bills Kremer sponsored but didn’t become law would have placed gender restrictions on school bathrooms and locker rooms, allowed concealed carry permit-holders to carry weapons on public school grounds and college campuses, put photo IDs on food stamp recipients’ debit cards and prohibited city officials from blocking police officers from asking people about their immigration status.

Kremer said he still hopes the Senate will pass bills he authored this session that would penalize students for outbursts during campus speeches and limit the release of police body camera footage.

Scot Ross, executive director of liberal advocacy group One Wisconsin Now, had called on Democrats to challenge Kremer in the November election.

“Jesse Kremer will not be missed by anyone who cares about treating all human beings with respect, decency and fairness,” Ross said in response to Kremer’s announcement.


Matthew DeFour covers state government and politics for the Wisconsin State Journal.