Longest-serving legislator in US history, WWII veteran Fred Risser, will leave Wisconsin's Senate on Monday

Wisconsin state Sen. Fred Risser is the last World War II veteran to serve in the state or nation's legislatures.


By MITCHELL SCHMIDT | The Wisconsin State Journal | Published: December 30, 2020

MADISON, Wis. (Tribune News Service) — The electric watch went on sale, the Montgomery Bus Boycott ended, future NBA legend Larry Bird was born and Fred Risser started a record-breaking run in elected office.

On Monday, 64 years later, Risser, D-Madison, will depart from state politics, capping the longest tenure of any state or federal legislator in the country's history.

Risser, 93, will leave the state Senate after being elected to that body in 1962 after six years in the Assembly. In addition to more than six decades in office, Risser is also the last World War II veteran to serve in the state or nation's legislatures.

In a statement Tuesday, Risser said he was honored to represent the Madison area in the Legislature.

"I've always enjoyed representing people," Risser told the State Journal when he announced his retirement in March. "I always knew from the time that I was born that I would be involved in some type of political service. I was honored that the people of this district allowed me to serve that long."

Risser joined the U.S. Navy a few days before he turned 18, he told State Legislators Magazine in a 2013 interview.

As a medic, Risser spent time in Newport, Rhode Island, and Panama before returning to the U.S. Under the GI Bill, Risser received his undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Oregon.

Elected to the state Assembly in 1956, Risser moved to the Senate in 1962. He has served in several leadership roles including eight years as Senate minority leader and a quarter century as Senate president. He has worked with 13 governors and said he has never missed a legislative roll call.

Risser also comes from a family of lawmakers. His father, Fred E. Risser, was the last Progressive member of the Senate. His grandfather, Ernest N. Warner, was a Progressive Republican in the Assembly and his great-grandfather, Col. Clement E. Warner, served in both the Senate and Assembly as a Unionist.

Risser said he considers his work on drafting the Capitol Master Plan one of his biggest accomplishments. That plan led to more than a decade of Capitol restorations.

Risser has helped enact more than 240 bills into law, including the state's Clean Indoor Air Act, which restricts smoking in certain public and privately owned buildings and on most types of public transportation.

Risser said in March that it was time to retire.

"The truth is, it was a difficult decision for me," Risser said. "I came to the conclusion, after thinking of all the changes and options, that it was time. I don't know what else to say other than that."

Former state Rep. Kelda Roys, who served four years in the state Assembly from 2009 to 2013, beat out six other Democrats vying for Risser's 26th Senate District seat in the August primary. She ran unopposed in the November election.

The 26th Senate District covers the Isthmus, UW-Madison, Shorewood Hills and the western half of Madison.

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