NEENAH - Longtime Republican Congressman Tom Petri of Fond du Lac made his first public comment on not seeking a 19th term Monday. Petri, whose district ranges from the lakeshore through the southern part of the Fox Cities and on west and south, is Wisconsin's second longest-serving member of Congress. He's represented the state's sixth district in the House of Representatives since 1979.
U.S. Rep. Tom Petri // In Congress
- Born May 28, 1940 in Marinette.
- 1958 graduate of Fond du Lac Goodrich High School.
- Law degree from Harvard.
- Served in state Senate from 1973-79.
- First elected to U.S. House in 1979.
At a town hall in Neenah Congressman Tom Petri gave voters his gratitude.
"I'd like to express my sincere thanks to my fellow citizens for entrusting me with the responsibility of representing them for the last 35 years. It's been a great honor," said Petri.
The Republican spoke with pride as he looked back on his years of service.
"Creating jobs here, creating beautiful infrastructure like expanding Highway 41 and the Marquette Interchange," said Petri.
State Republican lawmakers Duey Stroebel and Glenn Grothman are running to replace Petri in fall. Both told FOX 11 Petri served honorably, but that he was too moderate. They said it's time for a more conservative voice in Congress.
"I believe that's what our founding fathers always meant for us, that we have more of a citizen-legislature and less of a career politician situation and I think that's what will get the best representation," said Stroebel.
"The biggest problem we have is the culture of dependency. I think it's time we had an outspoken opponent of the welfare state. It not only destroys us, our work ethic, it destroys our families," said Grothman.
But state Democrats told FOX 11 they worry moderates like Petri are being pushed out by Republicans who are too conservative.
"He did have a record of crossing the aisle on occasion, yes, and I don't think that's what you see anymore, especially in Wisconsin where we've become so polarized and so divided," said Melissa Baldauff, communications director for the
Petri said he wasn't pushed out. He said dozens of reasons went into his decision.
Petri advised his successor to look for times to compromise in Congress.
"I tried to put the interests of our country and the state first and focus on getting things done for the area rather than self-advancement," he said.
Tom Petri was born in Marinette 74 years ago next month. He grew up in Fond du Lac graduating from Goodrich High School before heading off to Harvard, then the Peace Corps and a stint as an aide in the Nixon White House.
Back in Fond du Lac while practicing law, his first legislative experience came in 1972, when he began the first of two terms in the State Senate.
In 1979, he won a special election in the 6th Congressional District to replace Bill Steiger of Oshkosh who had died of a heart attack at age 40. Petri was re-elected the next year, and every two years since.
He is the 9th most senior member of the House. His fellow Wisconsin Republican, Jim Sensenbrenner from Menomonee Falls, is number 8 having served 3 months longer. Sensenbrenner is running again.
Petri's committee focus in the House has been on education and on transportation. You see his appointments in the current session including his current chairmanship of the subcommittee on highways and transit.