An earthquake rumbled across Wisconsin’s political landscape on Wednesday, as the longest serving member of the state’s congressional delegation announced he’ll not seek reelection in November. “There’s a time to stay, and a time to go. And this is my time to go,” said Representative Dave Obey, the Wausau Democrat first elected to represent the state’s sprawling 7th Congressional District in 1969. “Frankly I hate to do it. There is so much that needs to be done. But even more frankly, I am bone tired.” The 71 year-old Obey, who chairs the powerful House Appropriations Committee and who assumed a high profile as the House voted on health care reform, made the announcement at a Washington press conference with family members by his side.
Obey, who said he considered not seeking reelection in 2000 but stuck around because of his anger over the actions of the administration of President George W. Bush, cited the passage of the health care reform bill as a factor in his decision. “I’ve been waiting for that moment for 41 years, and its arrival finally, made all the frustrations of public life worth it.”
Obey “was the poster child for everything that was going wrong in Washington,” said Reince Priebus, the chairman of the Republican Party of Wisconsin. “It’s what people are talking about, it’s what people are concerned about, and he symbolized all of those frustrations.” Priebus said Obey’s decision was not difficult to understand. “Because the issues that matter most on the ground are the issues that Dave Obey is most vulnerable on, which is out of control spending, out of control debt and taxes.”
UW Madison political scientist Charles Franklin says Republican Sean Duffy is now well positioned to win the Seventh Congressional District in November. “Duffy, as an elected official, a district attorney in the district, and one who set out to raise money in an aggressive campaign, looks like a much more credible candidate, especially when coupled with a strong Republican year nationally,” said Franklin. But will Duffy have a cake walk? The GOP’s Priebus doesn’t think so. “It’s a fifty-fifty district and its going to be a fight,” he says. “It’s a little late (for a Democrat to enter the race), and Duffy has been campaigning hard, so he certainly has an advantage in money and start up time,” said UW’s Franklin. “It’s a district that leans Democratic, but in the attorney general’s race in 2006, it was won by the Democrat but by only 7,000 votes out of 250,000.”
Obey said that his constituents in northern Wisconsin do deserve “a fresh face” after 41 years, but in a veiled reference to Duffy, “not somebody who poses as a fresh face, but who would in reality take us back to the good old days of Bush tax cuts for the rich and misguided Iraq war. Not someone whose idea of a fresh idea is to say let the markets do it, which translated means let the corporate elites, big banks, Wall Street big shots and insurance company CEOs do anything they damn well please.”
Obey said that he has spoken with six potential Democratic candidates and believes that any one of them could win the district in November. He did not name any of them, but the Washington Post reported that state Senators Pat Kreitlow and Julie Lassa, state Representative Donna Seidel, attorney Christine Bremer, Marathon County Judge Greg Huber and Obey district director Doug Hill are the names being mentioned.