Happy trails, Fred Risser

Builder of Wisconsin’s Democrat(ic) party,
Fred watched it forget its heart and lose its soul.

Just a kind word about a good man, Fred Risser. At age 92, he is stepping aside after a record 64 years in the Wisconsin state legislature. No one has served longer in any statehouse in the nation. That’s something to write about!

Was startled to read in this morning’s excellent account that in all those years the man has never once used the Capitol elevator, always taking the stairs. One does not get to be 92 without doing something right. He’s also an avid bicyclist. (But aren’t they all!)

Some cite Sen. Risser as Exhibit A for term limits. Blaska Policy Werkes has never bought into that nostrum. Term limits are anti-democratic. No one was forced to vote for Fred Risser. The people of Madison elected Mr. Risser knowing full well that a fair-trade, coffee shop-full of liberal aspirants thirsted for the four-year term of a state senator. Nor can one say that Madison voters are political illiterates. Goofy, sure. But they knew for whom they were voting.

Jerome files as Dem

July 9, 1960 — Dane County Democrats file nomination papers to run for political office. From left to right: Joseph Wergin of McFarland (whom my father would defeat in the primary election), 4th Assembly district; Peter Schmidt, Madison 1st Assesmbly; Ruth Doyle (mother of Gov. Jim Doyle and wife of the U.S. Judge), Madison 3rd Assembly; Norman Anderson, (who was elected) Madison 1st Assembly; Jerome Blaska, Sun Prairie, incumbent 4th Assembly; David O’Malley, Waunakee, incumbent 5th Assembly; Fred A. Risser, incumbent, Madison 2nd Assembly; Horace W. Wilkie, Madison, incumbent 26th Senate district (he would go on to the state Supreme Court); Carl W.Thompson, Stoughton, incumbent 16 Senate; and Otto Festge, Cross Plains, incumbent county clerk (after whom a county park is named).. — Wisconsin State Journal photo.

How many legislators has Fred mentored, argued with, and seen come and go. He is the Queen Elizabeth II of Wisconsin politics. Thirteen governors and that includes my mentor Tommy G. Thompson, whom (I know) respected Fred Risser. (And trusted.)

Fred Risser is a “Jr.” believe it or not; his father was the last of the La Follette Progressive Republicans after the party disbanded in 1944. Fred Jr. was a key player of the resurgence of the Democrat(ic) party, having been elected to the state Assembly in 1956 to a class comprised of 67 Republicans to only 33 Democrats. (The Assembly today has 99 members.)

One year later in a 1957 special election, Bill Proxmire would be elected (after losing three tries for governor) to fill the unexpired U.S. Senate term of the newly expired Joe McCarthy. In 1958, Gaylord Nelson would claim the governorship for Democrats — the first of that party in 26 years as Democrats took a majority in “the lower house” for the first time since the FDR landslide year of 1932.

Grace notes and stair steps

Somehow, the kindly citizens of southwest Madison elected your irascible bloggeur to the Dane County Board of Supervisors a total of six times. Each time, he received a note of congratulations from State Sen. Fred Risser. We’re under no illusion — Fred did that for every local officeholder. O.K., it’s good politics but it’s also a small grace note — like George Bush Sr.’s bread and butter notes of thanks, as my dear mother used to call them. Who does those any more?

He did so knowing that Blaska was a retrograde Republican who had somehow strayed from the good Democrat(ic) stock of his father Jerome, with whom he served in the legislature.

Tommy&Jerome

Retail politics: Tommy & Jerome (brother Mike-boy in background) 1986

A Reagan/Tommy Democrat

I remember father. Jerome campaigned with the entire family. He dragged the eight of us to every church-basement chicken-and-ham parish fundraising dinner in eastern Dane County. After the dinners, he worked the taverns. Where his voters lived: silage and sweet corn truckers, porcelain factory workers, main street merchants, and farmers like himself. Brother Mike and I stapled his campaign signs on weathered tobacco barns, so many of them right on the town roads.

Democrats were blue collar then. But that was already changing. Working out from the campus, the tenured profs  at the University — ever more removed from the dairy short course days — were flexing their political muscle and indoctrinating their students, hopeful of good grades. The Capital Times served as their bullhorn. The reaction was settling in. Uncle Cy Blaska chaired WI Democrats for Nixon in 1968. Four years later, Democrats would nominate George McGovern and Thomas Eagleton.

Jerome enthusiastically supported Tommy Thompson, as did most of his children. Tommy won over the Eastern Dane Farmers Union and our farm neighbors at a turf-and-surf dinner in the Sun Prairie VFW hall in his first campaign for governor in 1986. Tommy’s eyes widened as those farmers awarded him a standing ovation. This bloggeur was present at the creation.

Jerome Blaska, like Fred Risser a WW2 veteran, died a Reagan Democrat 20 years ago this Spring. “I never left the party, it left me,” dad would say. My last Christmas gift to father, 1999, was a membership in the Dane County Republican party. His thank-you was sincere.

Blaska’s Bottom Line — Perhaps, if Fred Risser had spoken out against some of the overly “woke,” redistributionist, identity-politics excesses of his party, it might today remain Wisconsin’s majority party.  Trump might not have carried Wisconsin and thus, the presidency. For all that, Fred Risser has been a force for good. But a profile in courage? 

YOU tell me!

About David Blaska

Madison WI
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18 Responses to Happy trails, Fred Risser

  1. Mark Porter says:

    Great tribute, Dave! I think anyone who survives in politics today is a profile in courage…or masochism… 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Good Dog,Happy Man says:

    I see Jerome Blaska and raise him another couple of Blaska boyz.

    You know you have to be dead in order to get a park named after you.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Lars says:

    As much as I respect you Dave, I couldn’t disagree more.
    Term limits like with the presidency, only 2, is urgently needed.
    That goes for our supreme court as well.
    It may be anti democratic as you say, but we have lost the schools, and as Dennis Prager said, it is amazing there are any conservatives at all. Kindergarten through grad school, children are force fed socialism and communism.
    As Franklin said, we have given you a republic if you can keep it.
    We are well on our way to losing it, thanks to men like Fred Risser, and the loss of any semblance of reason in all political parties.
    Since the incumbent power, and money is so strong, term limits are necessary.
    Mr. Risser had 64 years to reign in the corruption, and size of government, I don’t recall him making any attempt to do so.
    So I say 2 terms of service for all political positions.

    Like

    • David Blaska says:

      Multiple opportunities to vote against Fred Risser. Rest assured, his successor will be worse.

      Like

    • dad29 says:

      Sensenbrenner, another Gummint Lifer (more to my liking) reminds us that after only 4 years in office, one hardly knows the way to the men’s (Ladies’) room. That’s shorthand for Not Knowing The System–nor the players.

      Thus, the players and the system will govern because the elected reps cannot pull the right levers. We do NOT want to concede Gummint to The Miasma.

      Sadly, very few can resist the sirens in DC or Madistan (and I’m sure that many have been caught “entertaining” some sirens and are on film, kept in certain offices for future use.)

      We elect men, not angels.

      Like

    • Mark Porter says:

      Did I hear someone advocate for removing money from politics in this?! 🙂

      Like

  4. George's Son says:

    Thanks, David. Wonderful memories of a memorable fellow. Yep, I’m surprised, too, but he’s surely earned his retirement. S-o-o many connections he has made to s-o-o many of us over the years.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. AnonyBob says:

    Term limits deny voters the opportunity to vote for someone they want to support. What’s democratic about that? Incumbents in office for a long time are there because they’re probably good at the job and people keep voting for them. If they shouldn’t be in office but are, that’s the voters’ fault. The state assembly has a turnover rate of roughly 25% every two years. You want inexperienced policy makers? That just gives more power to lobbyists, legislative staff and (in overwrought imaginations) the dreaded, mythical, “deep state.” We already have term limits – they’re called elections.

    Liked by 1 person

    • madisonexpat says:

      You mean Russians don’t control our elections?

      Liked by 1 person

      • AnonyBob says:

        Control? No. Influence? Sure. And anytime you have a hostile (or even non-hostile) country influence an election decided by a razor thin margin…well, that’s a bad thing. Be honest Splat; you have absolutely no personal knowledge whether it happened or not. The experts, the intelligence professionals, that DO know about it are unanimous. Your ignorance, steeped in Dear Leader devotion, is not equal to their expertise.

        Like

        • Cornelius Gotchberg says:

          “Control? No.”

          Not many (as in ZERO!) Lefties can resist the seductively intoxicating prospect of more CONTROL; the great unwashed incapable of tending themselves-n-such.

          But on that subject:

          Former UK PM Gordon Brown Urges World Leaders To Create ‘A Temporary Form Of Global Government’ To Tackle Coronavirus.

          What could possibly go wrong, am I right?

          Anywho, once the pandemic has passed (none too soon for the (Anony)Bobbing in a sea of red ink Gotch household), whaddya figure the over/under for that…um…temporary really REALLY BIG GUBMINT giving way to status quo ante?

          Asking for a friend…….

          The Gotch

          Like

  6. dad29 says:

    Great stories!!

    Jerome Blaska, like Fred Risser a WW2 veteran, died a Reagan Democrat 20 years ago this Spring.

    And Trump has re-captured the Reagan Democrats, yet certain Madison-area (R) folks still haven’t conceded to Trump. Hmmmmm.

    Like

  7. Lars says:

    Dave you live in Madison, it is already Lost
    I voted against Risser for decades.
    The fact that you say his replacement will be worse, argues for term limits.

    Like

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