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Sensenbrenner’s final term

I first became aware of Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner in January of 1999. I was a living in Texas with my young family, working two jobs, and trying to keep abreast of the news of the day between shifts and dirty diapers. President Clinton had just been impeached and the trial in the Senate had begun. It was riveting political drama and there was Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, one of the House managers for the trial, making the case in his measured, articulate, precise, and insightful way. Little did I know that Sensenbrenner would soon be my representative.

Of course, my personal recollections are being spurred by the news that Congressman Sensenbrenner, the dean, has decided that this will be his final term. He will not run for reelection next year and will come home for good at the conclusion of 42 years of serving Wisconsin in the House of Representatives. It is remarkable to think that when I first saw him, he was already a senior member of the House, but still less than half way through his tenure. Vats of ink and trillions of pixels will be spent opining about Sensenbrenner’s legacy, impact, and the future of the Fifth Congressional District, but for now, I find myself simply reflecting on almost 20 years of being his constituent.

Shortly after moving to Wisconsin, I attended my first Sensenbrenner Town Hall in Cedarburg’s City Hall. It was remarkable. Congressman Sensenbrenner gave an update about the current goings on in the House, and then opened the floor for questions. He took questions from all comers. Some questions were aggressive and accusatory. Some were about a major issue of the day. Some were just curiosities about how government works or about a personal struggle with government.

Sensenbrenner answered each question thoughtfully and thoroughly. He did not dodge the tough issues or sugarcoat the answers. Each constituent had the full attention of their representative and Sensenbrenner gave them the respect they deserved. Most impressive was Sensenbrenner’s prodigious memory and mastery of the facts. He was able to cite the history, legal precedents, political machinations, and actual language of the most obscure items. Sensenbrenner’s performance was one that had been, and would be, repeated hundreds and hundreds of times. Love him or hate him, Sensenbrenner would always take a question from a constituent and actually answer it.

As I began writing and became more involved in Wisconsin politics, my path crossed Sensenbrenner’s more and more often. I once had the privilege of moderating a debate between Sensenbrenner and one of the legion of forgotten Democratic opponents that he left in his wake, and Sensenbrenner demonstrated the same mastery of the issues that he showed in his town halls.

Sensenbrenner and his staff also worked hard for his constituents behind the scenes. When people had a problem navigating the federal government or needed help resolving a dispute. Sensenbrenner and his staff were always attentive, helpful, and responsive. Even when his office received a handwritten letter from a distraught little girl about the news that the penny may be phased out, that little girl received a very sympathetic reply assuring her that the penny would never be removed without thoughtful consideration.

One of the reasons for Congressman Sensenbrenner’s success and longevity in office is that he never forgot his constituents. Every year, in good times in bad, in power or in the wilderness, in the heat or cold, Congressman Sensenbrenner could be found out in his district. He walked in parades, attended the rubber- chicken dinners of local organizations, worked through local festivals, enjoyed the county fairs, and so much more. There used to be a joke that whenever and wherever three residents of the Fifth District gather, one would find Jim Sensenbrenner.

Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner will be justifiably lauded for his accomplishments. He has truly been an anchor for Wisconsin Conservatism for a generation and an instrumental part of Wisconsin’s history. But I hope he will also be lauded for never losing sight of the fact that he was, first and foremost, a representative, in the full and truest sense of that word.

Jim Sensenbrenner will have a successor, but he will never have a replacement.

(Owen B. Robinson is a West Bend resident. He can be reached at owen@bootsandsabers. com.)

Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner will be justifiably lauded for his accomplishments. He has truly been an anchor for Wisconsin Conservatism for a generation and an instrumental part of Wisconsin’s history. But I hope he will also be lauded for never losing sight of the fact that he was, first and foremost, a representative, in the full and truest sense of that word.

OWEN

ROBINSON

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