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Obey: 'It's been long enough'

Saying he was "bone tired" and had lost the will to keep up the Washington political battle, veteran Rep. Dave Obey, D-Wis., of Wausau said he will leave Congress after winning northern Wisconsin's Seventh Congressional seat for 21 straight races.

Dave Obey

Saying he was "bone tired" and had lost the will to keep up the Washington political battle, veteran Rep. Dave Obey, D-Wis., of Wausau said he will leave Congress after winning northern Wisconsin's Seventh Congressional seat for 21 straight races.

Obey announced today that he will retire at the end of this term.

"There is a time to stay and a time to go," Obey said. "And this is my time to go."

Obey, 71, chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, has served in the U.S. House since Richard Nixon was president and the Vietnam War was raging. He is Wisconsin's longest-serving member in the history of either branch of Congress, was the first Democrat to hold the Seventh District seat and, at age 30, was the youngest member of Congress when elected in 1969.

Obey also is the third-longest-serving member of the House behind Democrats John Dingell and John Conyers of Michigan and will be the 19th-longest-serving Congressman in U.S. history.

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"When I was a kid growing up in Wausau I never dreamed that I would have even one-tenth of the opportunities that have come my way," Obey said in his statement. "I hope that I have used those opportunities to do the most that could be done for the causes I believe in: fairer taxes; greater economic opportunity; better schools; affordable health care; expanded education and health care benefits for veterans; research that will help us fight diseases like cancer, diabetes and Parkinson's; better health, safety, and economic security for workers; cleaner air; and water and preservation of National Parks and public places."

Obey won at least 60 percent of the vote in all but two of his 20 re-election campaigns (1994 and 1996) and recently won 62 percent of the vote in 2006 and 61 percent in 2008. He was considered a pro-choice Democrat but also received high ratings from the National Rifle Association and other gun groups, and had managed to shrug-off Republican opposition.

But Obey was one of nearly a dozen veteran House Democrats who were expected to face unusual competition from Republican challengers this year, thanks to apparent discontent with President Obama and the ongoing sluggish economy.

The open seat is especially good news for Sean Duffy, 38, the Hayward native, professional competitive lumberjack and Ashland County District Attorney who is considered the front-runner for the Republican nomination. Dan Mielke of Rudolph, Wis., also is running as a Republican.

Duffy's also been a commentator for ESPN's "Great Outdoor Games." He first gained attention as a cast member on MTV's "The Real World" Boston edition. His wife, Rachel Campos, is another "Real World" alumnus. They have five children.

Duffy has the support of former Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin and Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and has reportedly already raised more than $500,000 for the race.

It's unclear who will emerge as the Democratic front-runner and nominee. But they will face a short campaign to raise money and spread name recognition.

Obey was born in Okmulgee, Okla., but has called Wausau home for more than 50 years. He and his wife, Joan, went to St. James Catholic School and graduated from Wausau East High School.

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Obey has said he grew up as a Republican but was so angered after seeing one of his teachers falsely branded a Communist by backers of Joseph McCarthy that he became a Democrat as a teenager.

He earned a degree in political science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and worked as a real-estate agent. He was elected to the Wisconsin State Assembly in 1963 and served there until 1969, when he was elected to the House to replace eight-term incumbent Republican Melvin Laird, who was appointed Secretary of Defense under President Richard Nixon.

Obey won his first re-election bid in 1970 and every time since.

"Nothing escaped his attention; he was just so responsive and he will continue to be through the rest of this session. But we've lost a great asset for America, a thinker, a doer, a mover, a shaker both in Wisconsin and in Northeast Minnesota and the country at large. Personally, he's just a good, dear, trusted, reliable friend," said U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar, D-Minn. "For us in Northeastern Minnesota and the Duluth Superior Port Authority, he's been a critical partner in the investments the Corps of Engineers has needed to do the maintenance, dredging and improvements to keep the port operating."

U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., said Obey served his state well.

"I am deeply grateful for Congressman Obey's decades of service to the state of Wisconsin and the nation," Feingold said. "David Obey has been a strong defender of Wisconsin seniors and families, a tireless advocate for Wisconsin farmers and a staunch ally of Wisconsin veterans. His dedicated service to the people of Wisconsin will be greatly missed and I wish him and his wife, Joan, the very best."

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