By SCOTT BAUER
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The longtime Republican state lawmaker Luther Olsen, a moderate in the Republican majority who survived a 2011 recall attempt and served as head of the Senate’s Education Committee, announced Monday that he will not seek re-election.
Olsen, who turns 70 on Wednesday, will step down after serving 16 years in the Senate representing a south-central Wisconsin district that includes all or parts of nine counties, from Dane in the south to Waupaca in the north.
Moments after he announced his decision, Republican Rep. Joan Ballweg, of Markesan, said that she would run to replace him. She has been in the state Assembly since 2005, the same year Olsen joined the Senate after serving 10 years in the Assembly. There are two other Republican Assembly members in Olsen’s Senate district — Kevin Peterson, of Waupaca, and Jon Plumer, of Lodi.
President Donald Trump carried Olsen’s state Senate district with more than 58% of the vote in 2016.
“There’s a season for everything,” Olsen said in an interview explaining his decision to step down. “I’m realizing you just get to a time in life where there’s things I want to do and who knows how long you’re going to have to do it.”
Olsen said in a statement that he looked forward to watching his grandchildren grow up and “riding my Harley.”
Republicans hold a 19-14 majority in the Senate. Olsen is the first Republican to announce his retirement, joining Democrats Mark Miller, of Monona, and Dave Hansen, of Green Bay, who previously said they would not seek another term.
Democratic Sen. Chris Larson is running for Milwaukee County executive and Sen. Lena Taylor is running for Milwaukee mayor in the April 7 election. State law would require Larson to step down if elected and Taylor would almost certainly have to step aside if she defeats the incumbent mayor, Tom Barrett.
Two other Republicans, Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and Tom Tiffany, are running for Congress in heavily Republican districts and will not return if they win as expected.
That means at least three senators, and maybe as many as seven, will not be returning next year. The Senate plans to meet for one final day in session this year in late March.
Olsen was the subject of a recall election in 2011 after he voted for then-Gov. Scott Walker’s anti-union law known as Act 10. Olsen won that election with just over 52% of the vote and has won re-election in his conservative district two times since then, winning more than 57% of the vote each time.
Olsen, of Ripon, has served both as a member of the Legislature’s powerful budget-writing committee and chairman of the Education Committee. He oversaw the adoptoin of the state’s first school report card and was lead sponsor of a law establishing the graduated driver’s license, which changed the way teenagers get their driver’s license.