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Joel Kleefisch


Veteran state Rep. Joel Kleefisch will not seek re-election in November after seven terms in the Assembly, he announced Monday.

The Oconomowoc Republican, first elected to represent the 38th Assembly in 2004, told reporters his first priority is to give his children "a father outside elected office."

Kleefisch, 46, is married to Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch. They have two daughters: Ella Rose, 15, and Violet, 12. 

"I am in the rare blessed position to leave with nothing left on the table," the lawmaker said.

An outdoors enthusiast, Kleefisch most recently served as chairman of the Assembly Committee on Natural Resources and Sporting Heritage. His Capitol office is decorated with hunting trophies including a bearskin, an alligator and a turkey, among others.

"We’ve cut red tape to get into and utilize Wisconsin’s great outdoors, simplifying hunting and fishing regulations," Kleefisch said.

Other accomplishments Kleefisch listed included efforts to crack down on human trafficking and sex offenders, curb opioid abuse and help people with disabilities. He said he was proud to have "made it a priority" to work across the aisle in authoring legislation. 

Kleefisch said he looks forward to working in the private sector, but did not say whether he knows what he will do next. He does not expect to run for public office again, but did not rule it out.

"One of the single most satisfying things I have ever done is solving problems for people who have called and asked for my help," he said. "That is not only a privilege, but often a difficult course to navigate."

Kleefisch said his only regret from his time in office is that he allowed alcohol to play a prominent role in his life. He said he quit drinking seven years ago.

Kleefisch drew controversy in 2013 for introducing a bill that would have barred judges from using income above $150,000 to calculate child-support payments, which would have benefited a wealthy, divorced campaign donor. He later withdrew the proposal.

One of the most senior members of the state Assembly, Kleefisch is now the ninth incumbent Assembly Republican to announce plans to leave the Legislature at the end of this term. Three Democratic members are also not seeking re-election this year. 

Kleefisch said he had no concerns with his electoral prospects despite warnings of a "blue wave," noting that he won re-election during a strong year for Democrats in 2008.

He also hinted that his future plans could include supporting his wife in campaigns beyond the lieutenant governor's seat.

"Rebecca Kleefisch is an unbelievably remarkable woman," he said. "It would not surprise me if her talent and expertise doesn’t, one day, tempt her into a run for the governor’s office or beyond. I’d be more than thrilled and honored to be the man at her side should that opportunity ever happen."

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Jessie Opoien covers state government and politics for the Capital Times. She joined the Cap Times in 2013 and has also covered Madison life, race relations, culture and music. She has also covered education and politics for the Oshkosh Northwestern.