Herbert Kohl, former Wisconsin senator and Milwaukee Bucks owner, dies at 88


Herbert Kohl was president of Kohl Corporation from 1970 to 1979, when British American Tobacco purchased the remaining corporate interest. He then left management, becoming a tycoon in search of new challenges. He found two: the Milwaukee Bucks, which he bought in 1985 for $18 million and owned for 29 years of mostly losing seasons; and a seat in the Senate, which he held from 1989 to 2013, and where he became a popular advocate for working families, small business owners and seniors.

His political experience had been limited. He had been chairman of the Wisconsin Democratic Party from 1975 to 1977, but never held the position. The 1988 Democratic primary to succeed the outgoing William Proxmire, who had fought wasteful spending for 32 years in the Senate, focused on two main issues: campaign spending and name recognition.

Proxmire had boasted for years that his last re-election campaign, in 1982, had cost him only $145.10. Kohl acknowledged that he had spent more than $2 million on the 1988 primary alone, mostly on television ads, but argued that it was almost all his own money and that, as a senator, he would not be beholden to special interests. .

Wisconsin voters knew Kohl's name from his family business and ownership of his Bucks. But his primary opponents were also well-known: former Gov. Anthony Earl and Wisconsin Secretary of State Doug La Follette, a close relative of Robert M. La Follette, a former governor, senator and presidential candidate. Kohl won the primary and easily defeated a Republican in the general election.

With assets worth $265 million, he was Milwaukee's richest resident and one of the richest members of the Senate. However, what his colleagues found in Kohl was a friendly, modest and unpretentious man, something like what the country's founders might have imagined in the Senate: a person of stature and achievement with a sense of obligation to with the citizens.

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