Russ Feingold

Feingold: “Destined to be a Badger”

Russ Feingold BA1975’s father, Leon BA1935, LLB1937, shaken by anti-Vietnam War violence in Madison – especially the Sterling Hall bombing that claimed a researcher’s life — urged his son to apply to Harvard instead of UW–Madison.

“I said, ‘No way,’” Feingold recalled. “I loved the campus, and to me, the biggest loss in the world would have been if I did not go … I was always destined to be a Badger.”

That decision for the Janesville student led to a sterling academic career that included selection to Phi Beta Kappa and a prestigious Rhodes Scholarship. After studying at Oxford, he enrolled in Harvard Law School, where he graduated in 1979.

And it helped launch an influential Democratic political career. After 10 years in the state senate, Feingold defeated incumbent Republican U.S. Senator Robert Kasten in 1992 using quirky TV ads and playing on his underdog status.

In the Senate, Feingold honed a reputation as a thoughtful, progressive Democrat and won fame by working with Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) to pass campaign finance restrictions in the early 2000s. The hard-won reforms were eventually gutted by court decisions.

Feingold was also the only senator to oppose the USA PATRIOT Act, passed by Congress in the weeks after the 9/11 attacks, saying the legislation wrongly curbed Americans’ civil liberties.

Feingold said safeguarding Americans from terrorism was Congress’s responsibility, “but the Congress will fulfill its duty only when it protects both the American people and the freedoms at the foundation of American society.”

In 2008, Feingold considered entering the presidential race, but ruled it out.

He spent 18 years in the Senate, before being swept out by the GOP’s Ron Johnson in an anti-Obama fever in 2010. Feingold went on to teach at Marquette and Stanford Universities, and was appointed by Secretary of State John Kerry as special envoy to the Great Lakes region of Africa. In 2016, Feingold attempted to stage a comeback, but fell short in a spirited rematch with Johnson.

“Let’s fight together for change,” Feingold said in announcing his campaign. “This means bringing back to the U.S. Senate strong independence, bipartisanship, and honesty.”