A longtime state lawmaker from the Fox Valley died this morning.
Former Sen. Mike Ellis of Neenah passed away at 77.
Ellis was a Republican, and he spent 44 years in the state Legislature, including 32 in the Senate. He was the Senate Majority Leader for several years, and the Senate President at the end of his tenure. He was in the Assembly from 1971 to 1982. He served in the Senate from 1983 to 2015.
Ellis was also on Neenah’s city council from 1969 to 1975.
Former Republican Sen. Alan Lasee served with Ellis for almost 30 years. He says Ellis left a big imprint on the state. He says no one in the Legislature knew and understood state budgeting like him.
Lasee says Ellis was a very close friend, and one of the very few he had in the Legislature. He says Lasee was extremely candid, and you never had to second-guess where he stood. He thinks that’s why they became good friends.
Ellis was a weekly guest on “Fresh Take with Josh Dukelow” on WHBY after he left office.
Here are some of the statements that state and local officials released:
“Tonette and I are saddened to hear of the passing of Senator Mike Ellis. He was a giant in the Legislature and a bigger-than-life personality in Wisconsin politics. I enjoyed serving with him as a lawmaker and as governor. We were just on the radio together recently and I love his wit and passion. He will be missed by so many of us. Tonette and I send our prayers to his entire family.”
Republican Sen. Roger Roth of Appleton. He succeeded Ellis in the 19th Senate District.
“I am deeply saddened by the news of the passing of Michael G. Ellis. Mike was a dedicated public servant, a highly-respected colleague, and a good friend. He was a tremendous mentor to me and I knew I could look to him for guidance on any issue. His breadth of knowledge and experience always kept him two steps ahead of everyone.
“I will miss most the ability to pick up the phone to talk to him – to discuss a state issue or just to talk about what’s happening in the district. I will always appreciate the time we shared and the sound advice I received from him.
“Someone once told me that Mike Ellis wasn’t just the leader of the Senate, he was the Senate. No matter what was happening in the Capitol, Mike knew about it and was already working it out. He has left a lasting impression on this state because of his strong personality and dedication to public service.
“He was the epitome of putting his district first and politics second. He had no problem challenging his caucus and reaching across the aisle to fight for his constituents, with most conversations ending with a laugh.
“His first bit of advice to me was, ‘Roth, take care of the sidewalks in your district first.’
“He will be greatly missed by his fellow colleagues at the Capitol and his constituents here in the 19th Senate District. My thoughts and prayers are with his family at this time.”
Republican Sen. Rob Cowles of Green Bay
“I’m deeply saddened by the passing of my good friend and former colleague Mike Ellis. There was no one quite like Mike. He was a decisive, honest, and dedicated legislator. His humor and wit will be greatly missed by all who knew him in the Capitol and throughout the Fox Valley.
“Please keep his wife Sandy and his family in your thoughts and prayers, and please give them the opportunity to process this tragic passing.”
Republican Congressman Glenn Grothman of Glenbulah. He served with Ellis in the state Senate.
“It is with great shock and sadness when I found out former State Senator Mike Ellis has left us. We served together for 21 years in the state legislature before both leaving in 2014. He was perhaps the most memorable character of the many legislators I served with. He was always an independent voice in an occupation sorely missing independent voices.”
“He enjoyed recounting the story of a lobbyist showing up to his office with cash for campaign contributions and throwing him out. He enjoyed holding court, be it at the Avenue Bar in Madison or Payne’s Point in Neenah, with his beloved wife Sandy. He also enjoyed talking about his siblings, nieces and nephews and his high school days as a star guard on the Neenah Rockets high school team.”
“He was vibrant until the end and it’s hard to imagine going to Neenah and not being able to see him.”
Democratic Sen. Dave Hansen of Green Bay
“A favorite son of the Fox Valley, his sense of service and commitment to our community was unrivaled. And his focus on constituents and placing the interests of the Fox Valley above of all else guided his public service.
“Quite simply, there will be no other. Senator Ellis will be sorely missed but his influence will be felt for years to come.”
Republican Sen. Alberta Darling of River Hills
“I am shocked and saddened by the passing of Mike Ellis. Mike was a legend in state politics. His leadership and decades of service to the people of Wisconsin helped make our state a national leader in reform.
Mike’s stories were as famous as his political skills. He will be greatly missed.
My condolences go out to his wife Sandy and his family.”