A progressive Madison institution is leaving the state Assembly.
Democratic Rep. Spencer Black, who was first elected in 1984, told the Wisconsin State Journal on Sunday he will not seek re-election.
Black was recently a lead sponsor of a controversial clean energy bill calling for Wisconsin to get 25 percent of its power from renewable sources by 2025, which died without getting a vote in either house. On Sunday night, Black, 59, said the bill’s death was a disappointment, but it “really didn’t play a role” in his decision, which he said was a personal one. And he said he believes he could win re-election, yet thinks “it’s a good time to pass the torch.” He also spoke of accomplishments in the area of environmental protection, such as the statewide recycling law and a preservation effort known as the Stewardship Fund.
“As I did when I first ran for office, I continue to believe that nothing is more important to the long range future of our state and nation than protecting the air we breathe, the water we drink and the land we love,” he said in an e-mail.
Calling his ability to represent his neighbors “the greatest honor” of his life, Black spoke of his work on a mining moratorium law aimed at protecting the Wolf River, the state trails system, grants to protect endangered species, and a new ban on phosphorus in lawn fertilizer and detergents.
Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison, called Black an irreplaceable environmental advocate who’s been at the forefront of countless conservation bills. “Outside of Gaylord Nelson, I can’t think of anyone who’s had a bigger influence on the environment in Wisconsin,” Pocan said.
No one is currently registered to run for Black’s seat representing the 77th Assembly District in the fall election, according to the Government Accountability Board website.
“Rep. Black has to know Assembly Democrats’ days in charge are numbered and there’s no doubt he doesn’t want to go back to the days where his far-left agenda gets neglected by more reasonable leadership,” said Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican Party of Wisconsin.
Black, chairman of the Assembly Natural Resources Committee, led an effort to override Gov. Jim Doyle’s veto of a bill that would have stripped the governor’s power to appoint Department of Natural Resources secretaries, a move applauded by many conservationists. The override attempt failed by six votes in late February.
In addition to his environmental work, Black said he was proud of his achievements in the areas of health care for senior citizens, education, consumer protection, transportation and tax issues. And he said he’s refused campaign contributions from groups like political action committees, lobbyists and out-of-state interests. “I take pride in the way I have served during my time in the Assembly as well as what I have been able to accomplish,” he said.
Before serving in the Legislature, Black was a graduate student at UW-Madison, where he received master’s degrees in urban and regional planning and public policy and administration. He also worked as a high school teacher and coach, conservationist for the Sierra Club and curator of education for the Wisconsin Historical Society.
Black is married to Pam Fornell, a physical therapist, and his son, Tim, is a college student in California.
Now seven Democrats, 12 Republicans, and Jeff Wood, an independent, have said they aren’t coming back for another term. Assembly members include: Chuck Benedict, D-Beloit; Black, D-Madison; Brett Davis, R-Oregon; Don Friske, R-Merrill; Mark Gundrum, R-New Berlin; Steve Hilgenberg, D-Dodgeville; Mary Hubler, D-Rice Lake; Thomas Lothian, R-Williams Bay; Phil Montgomery, R-Ashwaubenon; Thomas Nelson, D-Kaukauna; Kitty Rhoades, R-Hudson; Roger Roth, R-Appleton; Gary Sherman, D-Port Wing; John Townsend, R-Fond du Lac; Leah Vukmir, R-Wauwatosa; Wood, I-Chippewa Falls, and Rich Zipperer, R-Pewaukee. Senators who aren’t seeking re-election include: Ted Kanavas, R-Brookfield; Alan Lasee, R-De Pere; and Judy Robson, D-Beloit.