Politics History

5 Wisconsin Politicians Who Left the Job Early

Tom Giffey |



Duffy, a Republican congressman from Wausau whose district includes parts of the Chippewa Valley, announced in August that he would resign effective Sept. 23. He and his wife, TV commentator Rachel Campos-Duffy, are expecting their ninth child in October, and Duffy said the baby faces health complications and that he wants to be there for his family, “which is my first love and responsibility.” The 7th Congressional District seat will be filled by special election, which hasn’t yet been scheduled.


The state’s longest-serving governor was elected to a fourth term in 1998. The Republican from Elroy spent 14 years as chief executive, but he left the job in 2001 to become U.S. secretary of health and human services for President George W. Bush. He briefly ran for president in 2008, and a political comeback when he lost a U.S. Senate race to Tammy Baldwin in 2012.


Barstow is perhaps best known today because a major street in downtown Eau Claire bears his name. However, he was Democratic governor from 1854 to 1856, and his departure from office was perhaps the most bizarre in state history. Initially, it appeared that the scandal-plagued Barstow had won re-election by just 157 votes. Barstow was inaugurated, though he brought armed militia companies with him just in case. Within weeks, however, the state Supreme Court ruled that Barstow’s victory had been fraudulent, and the Republican candidate, Coles Bashford, took his place.


 Gov. Pat Lucey left office early, too, but his departure wasn’t the result of scandal. A native of the La Crosse area, Lucy served in the Assembly and as lieutenant governor before being elected governor as a Democrat in 1970. During his second term, he resigned in 1977 to become U.S. ambassador to Mexico. He returned to politics briefly in 1980 as running mate to independent presidential candidate John Anderson. The pair won nearly 6 million votes nationwide, a strong third-party showing.


Spooner (whose name you may also recognize from Wisconsin geography) was a Civil War veteran and railroad company lawyer who served in the U.S. Senate from 1885-91 and again from 1897-1907. A stalwart Republican, he often clashed with his progressive Republican colleague, Sen. Robert M. La Follette. Spooner retired from the Senate with two year left in his term for a basic reason: He wanted to cash in. He set up a law practice in New York, and as a biographer wrote, “He was anxious to make money, and he was making it.” Spooner didn’t have long to enjoy his fortune: He died in 1919.

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