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“It’s been an honor”: Retiring Dave Hansen reflects on 20-years in Wisconsin State Senate

Published: Dec. 30, 2020 at 1:12 PM CST
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - State Sen. Dave Hansen (D-Green Bay) is reflecting on his career representing the 30th Senate District.

Hansen is retiring after 20 years of service. He’ll step away from his role as a public servant at noon on Jan. 4.

Hansen was elected to the state senate in 2000 and took office in 2001. The Democrat says he’s stepping away now because political campaigns take a toll on family.

“It just got to be where these campaigns are tough and my wife’s been very involved in it. And she thought, well, it’s time and we have a little cabin in Egg Harbor, so we got a place to go. But it’s it’s tough, because you’re in the public eye and maybe not so much anymore. But that’s OK. It’s time for young people to take over,” Hansen tells Action 2 News.

Hansen and his family decided 20 years would be the limit for a career in the sometimes contentious State Capitol. Hansen’s wife, Jane, has worked tirelessly to get her husband reelected.

Hansen’s also enjoyed years of loyalty from his staff.

“We pretty much had the same staff for almost all 20 years. And my wife’s been my big partner in my whole career. Forty-nine years married and the love of my life, but the best political wife ever. She’s been outstanding and she’s my treasurer and all that. So she’s she supported us, and I think she thought it was time and I thought it was time to move on,” Hansen says.

Hansen, a graduate of Green Bay West High School, says his career in politics is based on a dare. Prior to his life in politics, he was a teacher and then worked for the city as a garbage truck driver.

“Well, actually, I started back in 1996 on a dare as a city employee,” Hansen says. “I ran for the Brown County Board. And what we were trying to do then was to build a new arena, which was the Resch Center. And we ended up having the Fox River Trail and having to build a Brown County Jail.”

He’s a Democrat that’s continually won reelection in a red district. Hansen rues the divisiveness that’s taken over politics in recent years.

“[Former Wisconsin] Governor [Scott] Walker was elected, it seemed like we became more us against them rather than trying to work together,” Hansen says. “You know, I believe in bipartisan things, actually. A representative, John Gard, a former Republican back in the day, and I, was able to get $7.5 million for the Phoenix Sports Center and the event center. And that was very good bipartisan thing.”

Hansen says one of his proudest accomplishments is the Silver Alert. He was moved to introduce the legislation after Claire and Leo Baeb went missing in 2013. Leo Baeb passed away, and Claire Baeb fought for the Silver Alert legislation.

Silver Alerts are sent out when people with cognitive disabilities or seniors at risk go missing.

“They [the Baebs] drove from Lakewood and coming to Green Bay. And it was like into 25-30 hours and they couldn’t be found. And so they did finally find them. The father died the next weekend of dehydration and we did pass the Silver Alert. She [Claire] would not quit until we got that done and we did that in a bipartisan way,” says Hansen. “So now when you hear about Amber Alert, it’s a Silver Alert, someone that might be suffering dementia or older. And we put it all over the airwaves and on billboards and everything else, radio, TV.”

Hansen is also proud of passing the Mental Health Parity Act.

“The mental health parity bill was trying to fill the gap that the federal government was lacking. And what we were trying to do is treat mental illness like any other illness, if it be cancer or heart, because it’s real. And we see in this all the depression and people that are really at risk right now because of being out there alone and and really suffering a lot, that mental health parity has to be treated the same as any other physical illness,” says Hansen.

He’s also proud of the 41 expansion and reconstruction from Oconto to Marinette and in the Fox Valley to the north.

Hansen opened up about the contentious year of 2011, when Wisconsin Republicans passed Act 10, the law limiting collective bargaining for many public employees. Fourteen Democrats left the state in an attempt to delay a vote on the legislation. Hansen says he was gone for 21 days.

“I remember the story that Rush Limbaugh would say on the radio about Senator [Chris] Larson, was one of my colleagues, and the story was that we had kidnapped her [Hansen’s driver]. And she was pregnant six months, and the real story was she was my driver, my car was back in Madison, and she was a driver.

“So we were unified, 14 of us. I still hear it from people who said, ‘go back to Illinois.’ I haven’t been back to Illinois since, but we just tried to allow people to know what was going on and hope for change if we put in the budget, maybe didn’t turn out the way we want it to. But I think at the time we thought it was the right thing to do. I don’t think any group will ever try to do that again. But I think Indiana’s Assembly did at the same time we were doing it and it was a matter of standing up.”

The sojourn to Illinois did not hurt Hansen at the voting booth. He continued to win reelection.

Hansen says 2020 has been a year unlike any other. He regrets the legislature has not done more to take on the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think it’s tougher now, though. Like I said, back in 2000, 2001, here are actually things we were doing together and it just seemed like it got too divisive. And then when [Democratic] Governor [Tony] Evers got elected, I was hoping for what used to be an opportunity to work together. You reached out and then they brought down the lame duck and tried to take away his power. And he’s [Evers] really trying to deal with this pandemic. And they tried to stop him in the courts and every which way. And the sad part is we could have been doing some things at the state level. Two-hundred-and-fifty days with no movement in the legislature to deal with unemployment, to deal with evictions, to deal with all the things that deal with COVID and getting making sure people are safe. We weren’t doing anything. So that’s the real sad part. What a way to end my career of 250 days of inaction.

“You know, we’ve been dealing with a lot of emails and messages and all this kind of stuff, but we could have been doing things in the legislature to help people. And I think after all that, that is what we’ve been asked to do.”

His parting message is a thank you to the people of the 30th Senate District.

“It has been an honor and a privilege to serve the people of the 30th District and Northeast Wisconsin,” said Hansen. “During that time I’ve made a lot of new friends and met amazing people along the way. To be elected in 2000 and then re-elected five times since is something I never imagined would happen and I owe it all to the thousands of people who have supported me throughout my time in office.”

On Monday, a Hansen’s seat flips red as Republican Eric Wimberger takes over as senator of the 30th District.

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