As the first floor session of the new legislature begins today (Tuesday), one state lawmaker recalls how "A lot can happen in 50 years."
Wisconsin Senator Fred Risser is now the longest-serving state representative in the state and the nation. The Madison Democrat was elected to the state Assembly in 1956, and served with 11 different governors. Risser was born and raised in the same community he represents, and comes from four generations of politicians. "My father served in the state senate for 12 years, and my grandfather served in the assembly for a while and my great grandfather served in both the senate and the assembly, so we have roots about as deep as they can be in this community. And I think that all helps."
Risser says things have changed in 50 years, including the availability of computers and telephones. Also, Risser says people are paying more attention to environmental issues, ethics, healthcare, diversity and governmental expenses. "When I started out in the state legislature there was only one woman out of 133 legislators. Now close to one-third of the legislators are women and I think that's good. I think the time is coming when maybe even a majority will be women."
Risser recalls how close he was to Earth Day Founder Gaylord Nelson, saying he was a remarkable individual, who did a lot for the state, country and the world. But Risser admits he didn't realize at the time what his friend was capable of accomplishing. "A little bit of history, Gaylord Nelson was the one that defeated my father when he ran for the state senate in 1948."
Despite the invention of modern conveniences, Risser says he hasn't touched the elevator in 25 years. He just takes the stairs. Also, the man — who'll turn 80 in May — can be seen riding his bicycle around Madison during his lunch hour, logging up to 25 miles a trip. Maybe that's one reason for his longevity.
Risser was just sworn in as Senate President for the fourth time. He was first elected in 1979. Dwight Eisenhower was U.S. president when Risser was first elected to the state Assembly in 1956.