High turnover in state Assembly, Senate

The state Capitol building in Madison is seen on Mar, 19, 2014. (WLUK/Andrew LaCombe)

There will be plenty of new faces in Madison when the state Legislature starts its next session.

More than 20 percent of state lawmakers are leaving their seats at the end of this year.

Of the legislators stepping down, Senate President Mike Ellis, R-Neenah, has served the longest. He’s spent 44 years in Madison.

“The world has changed,” said Ellis. “The dynamics of politics have changed. Allegiances have changed. And at 70, I don’t think I actually fit in anymore.”

Sen. Ellis announced his retirement last month, following the release of a hidden camera recording. In the video, Ellis discussed setting up an illegal political action committee. He says he never intended to follow through.

Republicans hold a 60-39 majority in the Assembly. Twenty-two of the 99 lawmakers have announced they won’t run for re-election. That would be the most retirements since 1960, according to the state Legislative Reference Bureau.

In the Senate, Republicans have an 18-15 edge. Seventeen of the senators are up for re-election, and seven lawmakers say they are leaving their seats. That includes four Republicans and three Democrats. It would be the most since 1956.

“It does open up the opportunity for a new candidate to get in there that doesn’t have to compete with the name recognition and maybe the money that an incumbent has,” said State Sen. Dave Hansen, D-Green Bay.

Hansen is not up for re-election this year. He hopes his party can gain control of the Senate.

“If we can pull it off as Democrats, and I think we have a really good shot,” he said.

State Sen. Rob Cowles, R-Allouez, isn’t up for re-election either. He thinks his party will keep its advantage.

Cowles says there are many explanations for the high number of retirements this year.

“Some of these individuals have been around for a long time and they feel it’s time to retire,” said Cowles. “Some people have decided just to do something else. Some people feel the place is too polarized.”

Including Sen. Ellis.

“It’s time for me to get on the tractor and bale hay and let another generation fend this off as they see fit,” said Ellis.

Some legislators leaving their positions are running for other state offices.

Races for the August 12 state primary elections should be set early next month. Candidates have until June 2 to file their nomination papers.