Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R)
Elected: 1978, 16th term.
Born: June 14, 1943, Chicago, IL .
Home: Menomonee Falls.
Education: Stanford U., A.B. 1965, U. of WI, J.D. 1968.
Family: Married (Cheryl); 2 children.
Elected office: WI Assembly, 1968–74; WI Senate, 1974–78.
Professional Career: Practicing atty., 1968–69; Staff asst., U.S. Rep. Arthur Younger, 1965.
The congressman from the 5th District is Jim Sensenbrenner, a Republican first elected in 1978. Sensenbrenner grew up in the Milwaukee area, with strong Wisconsin roots. His great-grandfather was a founder of Kimberly-Clark who invented the sanitary napkin, and Sensenbrenner is an heir to the paper and cellulose fortune. He reports a net worth of over $10 million, and on top of that, he won $250,000 in the District of Columbia lottery after buying two tickets while picking up some beer for an office party at a Capitol Hill liquor store. He graduated from Stanford University and the University of Wisconsin law school and has spent most of his adult life in politics. He served briefly as a staffer in the U.S. House, then was elected to the Wisconsin Assembly in 1968 and to the Wisconsin Senate in 1974. When Republican Rep. Bob Kasten ran for governor, Sensenbrenner ran in this district and won the Republican primary by 589 votes.
|Jim Sensenbrenner (R)||275,271||(80%)||($567,709)|
|Robert Raymond (I)||69,715||(20%)|
|Jim Sensenbrenner (R)||47,144||(78%)|
|Jim Burkee (R)||13,078||(22%)|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (62%), 2004 (67%), 2002 (87%), 2000 (74%), 1998 (91%), 1996 (74%), 1994 (100%), 1992 (70%), 1990 (100%), 1988 (75%), 1986 (78%), 1984 (73%), 1982 (100%), 1980 (78%), 1978 (61%)
Sensenbrenner has a rough and often partisan edge, but his voting record has leaned toward the center, and he prides himself on his legislative skills. He has long been a stickler on ethics and was one of the first to urge that Congress apply to itself the same laws it imposes on the rest of the country. In 2001, when Republicans were still in power, he became chairman of the Judiciary Committee. He sought to protect the committee’s jurisdiction from raids by other House committees, notably Energy and Commerce. And he was proud of enacting the first congressional authorization of the Department of Justice in many years, citing the vital role that it gave his committee in improving oversight of the department. “I am a hawk on oversight,” he said. “I don’t back down because the president is in my party.” After the September 11 attacks, he pressed for a thorough congressional review of Attorney General John Ashcroft’s proposal for beefed-up law-enforcement investigative powers. Concerned about possible violations of civil liberties, he insisted on a sunset provision for the 2001 USA PATRIOT Act that would let it expire in four years.
Sensenbrenner had decided by 2005 that his concerns about civil liberties infringements in the PATRIOT Act had been addressed, and pushed to make most of the law permanent. Some questionable parliamentary maneuvering during one of his hearings on renewal led Democrats to file an unusual resolution condemning Sensenbrenner for alleged abuse of power. The House rejected the resolution on a party-line vote, and Sensenbrenner refused demands for an apology. After a difficult conference committee with the Senate, he won an extension of the PATRIOT Act for the Bush administration. But Sensenbrenner had differences with Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez over the scope of the domestic surveillance program and demanded steps to protect “the freedoms we cherish.”
Sensenbrenner worked steadily for years to pass some major bills. One of them was the bankruptcy bill, which passed in 2005 after being held up for years by a Democratic provision preventing abortion protesters from filing for bankruptcy to avoid fines and damages if convicted of violence against abortion clinics. Sensenbrenner has backed limitations in tort law on class-action, medical-malpractice, and asbestos-liability suits and has sought to increase penalties for frivolous lawsuits. But he has not always followed the party line. In 2003, he said he saw no need to amend the Constitution to ban same-sex marriages. In 2004, after the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that such marriages were allowed by the state’s constitution, the Republican leadership bypassed the committee and brought their amendment to the floor directly, but it fell well short of the required two-thirds majority vote.
Another of Sensenbrenner’s major efforts was immigration. In 2004, he successfully added to the intelligence reorganization bill provisions setting national standards for driver’s licenses; among other things, they denied licenses to illegal immigrants, prohibited the use of Mexican matricula consular cards for identification, tightened standards for asylum, and overrode state laws and regulations blocking border barriers. When Sensenbrenner objected to the conference report with the Senate, GOP Speaker Dennis Hastert promised that the immigration provisions would come to the floor in 2005. That year, the House approved Sensenbrenner’s immigration bill 261-161, and it became law. After the House later passed additional measures to penalize illegal aliens, Sensenbrenner criticized the Senate-passed immigration bill as “amnesty” and said that President George W. Bush had failed to address conservative demands to toughen border enforcement. The two chambers never agreed on a comprehensive bill.
In 2006, Sensenbrenner spearheaded the 25-year extension of the Voting Rights Act. He had led negotiations on the 1982 renewal of the bill as well. He counts among his most cherished keepsakes the pens used by President Ronald Reagan and by President Bush to sign the two reauthorizations. In September 2006, Sensenbrenner won House passage of the bill for presidential authority to conduct warrantless surveillance, but it died in the Senate.
The House Republicans’ six-year term limit for senior committee members forced Sensenbrenner to give up the Judiciary gavel in January 2007. In March, Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio named Sensenbrenner the ranking Republican on the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming. A global-warming skeptic, Sensenbrenner had voted against the creation of the panel, saying it was nothing more than a publicity stunt, but he promised to participate in the debate. In 2008, he sponsored a bill to bolster research and development of hybrid-fuel utility and delivery trucks.
Sensenbrenner has been re-elected easily every two years. In 2008, he faced an odd “tag-team” when two political-science professors decided to run against him, one in the Republican primary and one in the general election as a Democrat. The two planned to make joint appearances, share a campaign website and even share fundraising, but the Democrat backed out of the race. Sensenbrenner easily bested his Republican challenger, 78%-22%, but the race put enough of a scare into him that he skipped the Republican National Convention in Minnesota to campaign at home. He easily beat an independent candidate in the general election.