Bob Kastenmeier, who represented Wisconsin’s 2nd Congressional District for 32 years, died peacefully died Friday morning at his home in Arlington, Virginia. He was 91.
“He was the most honest public official I ever dealt with,” said his good friend and former colleague Dave Obey, who represented Wisconsin’s 7th District from 1969 to 2011.
“I never saw Bob cast a vote in his life that he cast for political reasons,” Obey said. “I don’t think I can say that about anybody else.”
Kastenmeier was born in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, in 1924. He earned his law degree from the University of Wisconsin Law School in 1952. That June, he married Dorothy Kastenmeier, who said she had no idea that the somewhat introverted lawyer with a strong commitment to the Democratic Party would, in 1959, become a congressman.
“I was totally unprepared for that,” she said. “I was flabbergasted.”
With a caveat that she would not be required to give speeches, Dorothy supported her husband’s long career.
It was, she said, an exciting time to be in Washington, one that reached its stride when John F. Kennedy was sworn in as president in 1961.
“We were young,” she said. “Everything was new.”
A ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, Kastenmeier favored the 1974 impeachment of President Richard Nixon. He persuaded the committee to vote on each article separately so that each charge would be discussed openly.
He was a specialist in copyright legislation.
“I don’t think the community ever understood how crucial Bob was to getting a fair shake on copyright issues,” Obey said.
Kastenmeier was upset by Republican Scott Klug in 1990. Tom Barrett was elected to represent Wisconsin’s 5th Congressional District two years later.
“I would see him many times at congressional functions,” Barrett said. “He was a strong progressive voice.”
Mark Pocan, who now represents the 2nd Congressional District, said: “I got my start in national politics knocking on doors for Bob’s campaigns while in college.
“He was a leading voice for civil rights and civil liberties, and an advocate for peace.”
Sen. Tammy Baldwin, who represented the 2nd Congressional District from 1999 to 2013, called Kastenmeier “a dedicated public servant who was a strong voice for Wisconsin’s proud progressive values and traditions.”
“His optimistic spirit will live on in me and other elected officials who were touched by his life’s work.”
That spirit was evident in an interview last week with The Capital Times, in which Kastenmeier, displeased by Wisconsin’s growing conservatism, ended on a hopeful note:
“Don’t give up the ship,” he said. “There are better days ahead.”
In addition to his wife, Kastenmeier is survived by three sons: William, Andrew and Edward.
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