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Herb Kohl

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Herb Kohl
Chair of the Senate Aging Committee
In office
January 3, 2007 – January 3, 2013
Preceded byGordon H. Smith
Succeeded byBill Nelson
United States Senator
from Wisconsin
In office
January 3, 1989 – January 3, 2013
Preceded byWilliam Proxmire
Succeeded byTammy Baldwin
Chair of the Wisconsin Democratic Party
In office
April 12, 1975 – June 11, 1977
Preceded byWilliam Gerrard
Succeeded byMichael Bleicher
Personal details
Herbert Hiken Kohl

(1935-02-07)February 7, 1935
Milwaukee, Wisconsin, U.S.
DiedDecember 27, 2023(2023-12-27) (aged 88)
Milwaukee, Wisconsin, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
EducationUniversity of Wisconsin–Madison (BS)
Harvard University (MBA)
Military service
Allegiance United States
Branch/service United States Army
Years of service1958–1964
UnitArmy Reserve

Herbert Hiken Kohl (February 7, 1935 – December 27, 2023) was an American businessman, philanthropist, and Democratic politician from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He served 24 years as a United States senator from Wisconsin, from 1989 to 2013, and earlier served as chairman of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin.

From 1970 to 1979, Kohl was president of Kohl's Corporation, his family's business that owned the Kohl's department stores chain. He purchased the Milwaukee Bucks of the National Basketball Association in 1985 to prevent the team from relocating out of Milwaukee. He is also the namesake of the Kohl Center arena on the University of Wisconsin–Madison campus.

Early life, education, and career[edit]

Herbert Hiken Kohl was born on February 7, 1935, and raised in Milwaukee, the son of Mary (née Hiken) and Max Kohl.[1] His father was a Polish Jewish immigrant and his mother was a Russian Jewish immigrant[2][3] who came to the United States in the 1920s.[4] Kohl attended Washington High School. He earned a Bachelor of Science from the University of Wisconsin–Madison in 1956 and a Master of Business Administration degree from Harvard Business School in 1958. While an undergraduate, he joined the Pi Lambda Phi fraternity. He was also a roommate of Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig.[5] Between 1958 and 1964, Kohl was a member of the United States Army Reserve.[6]

After finishing graduate school, Kohl worked as an investor in real estate and the stock market, eventually spinning off his own company, Kohl Investments, to manage these assets. He and his brother became heirs to a family-owned chain that included 50 grocery stores and several department stores, pharmacies and liquor stores. In 1970, Kohl was named president of Kohl's and served until the corporation was sold to BATUS Inc. (formerly British American Tobacco) in 1978.[7]

After becoming prominent in Wisconsin business circles, Kohl also became involved in state politics as a donor and fundraiser for Patrick Lucey, who was elected Governor of Wisconsin in 1970 and reelected in 1974. After the 1974 election, Kohl first emerged in the state political arena as master of ceremonies at Lucey's second inauguration. Shortly after that inauguration, the chairman of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, Bill Gerrard—another Lucey ally—resigned.[8] Lucey encouraged Kohl to seek the chairmanship, and Kohl agreed. He was named interim chairman at an April 12, 1975, emergency session, and was then elected by the party's state convention delegates later that summer.[9]

Under Kohl's chairmanship, Democrats won historic victories in the 1976 election, reaching a supermajority in both chambers of the legislature for the first time since the creation of the Republican Party. Wisconsin also gave its electoral votes to the Democratic presidential candidate for the first time since 1964. And during the presidential nominating contest, Wisconsin's Democratic state primary had emerged as one of the pivotal contests in selecting a nominee. Shortly after the 1976 election, Kohl announced he felt that he had accomplished enough as chairman and was ready to step down.[10] He ultimately remained in office until the June 1977 state party convention.[11][12]

Milwaukee Bucks[edit]

Kohl purchased the Milwaukee Bucks of the National Basketball Association (NBA) from Jim Fitzgerald in 1985 for $18 million[13] to ensure the team remained in Milwaukee. In 2003, he considered an offer to sell the team to former NBA superstar Michael Jordan, but decided to retain ownership.[14]

In 2013, Kohl began to bring in new partners who were committed to keeping the team in Milwaukee.[15] Kohl agreed to sell the Bucks to New York–based billionaires Wes Edens and Marc Lasry for $550 million on April 16, 2014.[13]

U.S. Senate[edit]

Incumbent William Proxmire, a Democrat, did not seek reelection to the U.S. Senate in 1988. Kohl ran for the seat and faced Tony Earl, Ed Garvey, and Doug La Follette in the Democratic Party primary election.[16] Kohl won the nomination and defeated Republican Susan Engeleiter in the general election.[17][18] He was reelected in 1994 against Robert Welch,[19] in 2000 against John Gillespie,[20] and in 2006 against Robert Lorge.[21]

On May 13, 2011, Kohl announced he would not run for re-election in 2012, saying, "The office doesn't belong to me. It belongs to the people of Wisconsin, and there is something to be said for not staying in office too long."[22]

Committee assignments[edit]


Political positions[edit]

President Barack Obama (right) meets backstage with from left: Political Director Patrick Gaspard, Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle and Senator Herb Kohl at U.S. Cellular Arena in 2010.

Kohl has been described as having been a populist-leaning liberal.[24]

Kohl supported President Barack Obama's health reform legislation; he voted for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in December 2009,[25] and he voted for the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010.[26]

Fiscal policy[edit]

Kohl voted in favor of most lawsuit reform measures as well as for rules tightening personal bankruptcy. He long supported amending the U.S. Constitution to require a balanced budget. He was one of the few Democrats to vote for the tax cut passed in 2001, and he also supported the elimination of the "marriage penalty". Despite these views, he was seen as generally supportive of progressive taxation. Like many moderate Democrats, he voted in favor of the welfare reform measures in the mid-1990s. He was also not opposed to the creation of individual, private savings accounts to supplement Social Security.[24]

Kohl generally had a pro-environmental record and was an outspoken proponent of American energy independence. He supported increased production of hydrogen cars, establishing a federal goal for reducing oil consumption by 40 percent, and disallowing oil speculation in protected areas. He voted against Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards and was rated highly by groups that desire universal health care. He voted in favor of expanding Medicare and SCHIP and desired that prescription drugs be included under federal health coverage. During his 2006 reelection campaign, Kohl advocated that HMOs be placed under more scrutiny in order to determine if they're effectively delivering care.[24]

Social policy[edit]

Kohl supported abortion rights and opposed the death penalty.[27] He favored affirmative action and supported setting aside funds for women and minorities.[1] Although he voted in favor of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act,[28] Kohl rejected the proposal to amend the U.S. Constitution to define marriage as between one man and one woman and supported measures that ban discrimination based on sexual orientation.[29] Kohl consistently voted against the flag desecration amendment.[30]

In 2005, Kohl secured a victory for one of his main causes: requiring handguns to be sold with child safety locks. The amendment was attached to the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, with every Democrat and many Republicans voting in favor of the amendment.[31] Earlier in his career, he helped push the Gun-Free Schools Act which the U.S. Supreme Court overturned in 1995 and submitted many amendments to that effect.[32] He was a strong supporter of public education and rejected school vouchers. Kohl voted in favor of allowing for the establishment of educational savings accounts.[1]

Foreign policy[edit]

Kohl voted against many free trade agreements including the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)[33][34] and the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA)[35][36] and voted against the Freedom to Farm Act in 1996.[37][38] He supported fast-tracked trade normalization with the People's Republic of China and free trade with some of the developing world.[39]

Kohl voted against authorizing the Gulf War in 1990. He voted in 2002 to authorize military force in Iraq.[40] Kohl voted on a number of occasions with more liberal Democrats to reduce military spending, voting against 1996 defense appropriations increases and supporting a veto of funding new military projects. Despite having been among the 98 U.S. senators who voted for the PATRIOT Act, Kohl subsequently opposed this legislation and voted to require warrants for wiretapping or the detention of prisoners.[24]

Personal life and death[edit]

Kohl was the wealthiest resident of Milwaukee, the richest Jewish American from Wisconsin, and one of the wealthiest U.S. senators.[41] In 2016, Forbes estimated Kohl's net worth to be $630 million.[42]

Kohl was elected to the Wisconsin Athletic Hall of Fame in 2007.[43] On July 22, 2021, Kohl was the key figure of the lead car in the Milwaukee Bucks NBA Championship parade. On the event, he said: "This is one of the big days of my life."[44] Kohl attended the Bucks' 2021–22 season opener at Fiserv Forum and was presented with a Bucks championship ring for his efforts in keeping the Bucks in Milwaukee.[45]

Kohl died on December 27, 2023, at age 88, at home in Milwaukee, following a brief illness.[46][47] The next day, Governor Tony Evers ordered that flags be flown at half-staff until his funeral.[48]


Kohl donated $25 million to the University of Wisconsin–Madison for construction of its new sports arena, which was named the Kohl Center. In 1990, Kohl established the Herb Kohl Educational Foundation Achievement Award Program, which provides annual grants totaling $400,000 to 200 graduating seniors, 100 teachers, and 100 schools throughout Wisconsin.[49] In 2016, he gave $1.5 million to the Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs to create the Herb Kohl Public Service Research Competition, promoting public policy research.[50]

Electoral history[edit]

U.S. Senate (1988–2006)[edit]

Year Election Date Elected Defeated Total Plurality
1988 Primary[51] Sep. 13 Herb Kohl Democratic 249,226 46.78% Tony Earl Dem. 203,479 38.19% 533,004 45,747
Ed Garvey Dem. 55,225 10.37%
Doug La Follette Dem. 19,819 3.72%
Edmund Hou-Seye Dem. 5,040 0.95%
General[51] Nov. 8 Herb Kohl Democratic 1,128,625 52.08% Susan Engeleiter Rep. 1,030,440 47.55% 2,167,257 98,185
George W. Zaehringer Ind. 3,965 0.18%
Patricia Grogan Ind. 3,029 0.14%
Arlyn F. Wollenburg Ind. 1,198 0.06%
1994 Primary[52] Sep. 13 Herb Kohl (inc) Democratic 135,982 89.72% Edmund Hou-Seye Dem. 15,579 10.28% 151,561 120,403
General[52] Nov. 8 Herb Kohl (inc) Democratic 912,662 58.31% Robert T. Welch Rep. 636,989 40.70% 1,565,090 275,673
James Dean Lib. 15,439 0.99%
2000 Primary[53] Sep. 12 Herb Kohl (inc) Democratic 184,920 89.78% Jim Sigl Dem. 20,858 10.13% 205,981 164,062
General[54] Nov. 7 Herb Kohl (inc) Democratic 1,563,238 61.54% John Gillespie Rep. 940,744 37.04% 2,540,083 622,494
Tim Peterson Lib. 21,348 0.84%
Eugene A. Hem Ind. 9,555 0.38%
Robert R. Raymond Con. 4,296 0.17%
2006 Primary[55] Sep. 12 Herb Kohl (inc) Democratic 308,178 85.66% Ben Masel Dem. 51,245 14.24% 359,758 256,933
General[56] Nov. 7 Herb Kohl (inc) Democratic 1,439,214 67.31% Robert G. Lorge Rep. 630,299 29.48% 2,138,297 808,915
Rae Vogeler Grn. 42,434 1.98%
Ben J. Glatzel Ind. 25,096 1.17%

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c McFadden, Robert D. (December 28, 2023). "Herbert Kohl, Former Wisconsin Senator and Milwaukee Bucks Owner, Dies at 88". The New York Times.
  2. ^ Stone, Kurt F. (December 29, 2010). The Jews of Capitol Hill: A Compendium of Jewish Congressional Members. Scarecrow Press. p. 470. ISBN 9780810877382. Retrieved August 8, 2014.
  3. ^ "Working Hard for Working Families" (PDF). Senate.gov. Archived from the original (PDF) on December 21, 2012. Retrieved August 11, 2019.
  4. ^ Rosenbaum, David E. (November 19, 1999). "Quiet, Peaceable Man Just Wants to Hogtie Senate". The New York Times.
  5. ^ Rettig, Jessica (June 28, 2010). "10 Things You Didn't Know About Herb Kohl". US News. Retrieved August 8, 2014.
  6. ^ "Herb Kohl". Alumni Park. Wisconsin Alumni Association. University of Wisconsin-Madison. Retrieved January 18, 2019.
  7. ^ McNeil Hamilton, Martha (April 8, 2001). "Kohl's stores keep it simple to grab busy shoppers". Cape Cod Times. Retrieved December 27, 2023.
  8. ^ Christofferson, William (March 2, 1975). "Demo Chairman Skilled Dodger". Wisconsin State Journal. p. 35. Retrieved December 28, 2023 – via Newspapers.com.
  9. ^ Christofferson, William (April 17, 1975). "Democrat Leader Gets a Roasting". Wisconsin State Journal. p. 31. Retrieved December 28, 2023 – via Newspapers.com.
  10. ^ "Kohl ready to give up party post". Wisconsin State Journal. January 31, 1977. p. 2. Retrieved December 28, 2023 – via Newspapers.com.
  11. ^ Christofferson, William (June 12, 1977). "Bleicher to head state Democrats". Wisconsin State Journal. p. 2. Retrieved December 28, 2023 – via Newspapers.com.
  12. ^ Rettig, Jessica (June 28, 2010). "10 Things You Didn't Know About Herb Kohl". U.S. News & World Report. Retrieved December 28, 2023.
  13. ^ a b Walker, Don (April 17, 2014). "Kohl sells Bucks for $550 million; $200 million pledged for new arena". Jsonline.com. Archived from the original on April 17, 2014. Retrieved August 8, 2014.
  14. ^ "ESPN.com: NBA – No Sale to MJ: Kohl to keep Bucks". ESPN.com.
  15. ^ Gardner, Charles F. (December 16, 2013). "Bucks owner Herb Kohl plans to broaden team ownership". Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Retrieved December 27, 2023.
  16. ^ "COST IS ISSUE IN WISCONSIN SENATE RACE". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved January 30, 2024.
  17. ^ "THE 1988 ELECTIONS: Midwest; WISCONSIN". The New York Times. November 9, 1988.
  18. ^ "Seven New Faces". Time. June 24, 2001. Archived from the original on September 30, 2007. Retrieved August 11, 2019.
  19. ^ Archives, L. A. Times (November 9, 1994). "ELECTIONS '94 / The Midwest : ILLINOIS". Los Angeles Times.
  20. ^ "Kohl bucks Gillespie; retains seat". Journal Times. November 8, 2000.
  21. ^ "Voters return Kohl to Senate for fourth term". Green Bay Press-Gazette. November 8, 2006. p. 7 – via newspapers.com.
  22. ^ Walker, Don; Gilbert, Craig (May 12, 2011). "Kohl announces he will not seek re-election". Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. Archived from the original on January 14, 2012. Retrieved August 11, 2019.
  23. ^ "Herb Kohl" (PDF). GovInfo. 2014. Retrieved January 1, 2024.
  24. ^ a b c d "Herbert Kohl on the Issues". Ontheissues.org. Retrieved August 29, 2010.
  25. ^ "U.S. Senate: Legislation & Records Home > Votes > Roll Call Vote". Senate.gov. Retrieved May 11, 2012.
  26. ^ "U.S. Senate: Legislation & Records Home > Votes > Roll Call Vote". Senate.gov. Retrieved August 29, 2010.
  27. ^ "US Senate candidates differ on crime". Stevens Point Journal. October 24, 1994. p. 19 – via newspapers.com.
  28. ^ "Senate rejects same-sex marriage". Wisconsin State Journal. September 11, 1996. p. 1 – via newspapers.com.
  29. ^ "Wisconsin senators plant to vote against gay-marriage amendment". Marshfield News-Herald. July 7, 2004. p. 5 – via newspapers.com.
  30. ^ Platteville, William J. Broske (June 18, 2008). "STILL LEGAL TO DESECRATE FLAG". Wisconsin State Journal.
  31. ^ "Senate Backs Handgun Safety Locks – CBS News". www.cbsnews.com. March 2, 2004.
  32. ^ Kohl, Sen. Herbert (July 27, 2005). "Kohl Amendment: Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act". GovTrack. Archived from the original on January 14, 2012. Retrieved August 11, 2019.
  33. ^ "Senate roll call vote (H.R. 3450)". Senate.gov. November 20, 1993. Retrieved December 30, 2023.
  34. ^ Rosenbaum, David E. (November 21, 1993). "Without earlier drama, trade accord is passed". The New York Times. Retrieved December 30, 2023.
  35. ^ "Senate roll call vote (H.R. 3045)". Senate.gov. July 28, 2005. Retrieved December 30, 2023.
  36. ^ Beitlich, Sue (July 14, 2005). "Opinion: Support family farms by opposing CAFTA". Wisconsin State Journal. Retrieved December 30, 2023.
  37. ^ Grunwald, Michael (September 20, 1999). "Milk price fight again spilling into Congress". The Washington Post. Retrieved December 30, 2023.
  38. ^ Rosenbaum, David E. (October 3, 1999). "Battle in Congress over milk prices pits east against Midwest". The New York Times. Retrieved December 30, 2023.
  39. ^ "Senate roll call vote (H.R. 4444)". Senate.gov. September 19, 2000. Retrieved December 30, 2023.
  40. ^ "OnPolitics (washingtonpost.com)". www.washingtonpost.com. Retrieved January 30, 2024.
  41. ^ "2004–05 NBA salary report". USA Today. Gannett Co. Inc. May 20, 2005. Retrieved August 11, 2019.
  42. ^ "Herb Kohl". Forbes. Retrieved April 14, 2016.
  43. ^ "Wisconsin Athletic Hall Of Fame Will Honor Herb Kohl". KFIZ News-Talk 1450 AM. February 28, 2016.
  44. ^ "Former Sen. Herb Kohl: '1 of the big days of my life'". July 22, 2021.
  45. ^ "Bucks honor Herb Kohl with championship ring". October 24, 2021 – via www.wisn.com.
  46. ^ Glauber, Amy Rabideau Silvers, Craig Gilbert and Bill. "Herb Kohl, former U.S. senator and Milwaukee Bucks owner, dies at age 88". Journal Sentinel.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  47. ^ McFadden, Robert D. (December 27, 2023). "Herbert Kohl, Former Wisconsin Senator and Milwaukee Bucks Owner, Dies at 88". The New York Times. Retrieved December 27, 2023.
  48. ^ staff, WBAY news (December 28, 2023). "Gov. Evers orders flags to half-staff in honor of former U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl". www.wbay.com.
  49. ^ "Kohl and Selig Honored with 2014 Distinguished Alumni Award". Wisconsin Alumni Association. University of Wisconsin. December 23, 2014. Retrieved August 11, 2019.
  50. ^ "Nobody's Senator but Ours | on Wisconsin".
  51. ^ a b Barish, Lawrence S.; Theobald, H. Rupert, eds. (1989). "Elections in Wisconsin". State of Wisconsin 1989–1990 Blue Book (Report). Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau. pp. 904, 918. Retrieved December 28, 2023.
  52. ^ a b Barish, Lawrence S., ed. (1995). "Elections in Wisconsin". State of Wisconsin 1995–1996 Blue Book (Report). Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau. pp. 896, 915. Retrieved December 28, 2023.
  53. ^ Results of Fall Primary Election – 09/12/2000 (Report). Wisconsin State Elections Board. September 27, 2000. p. 2. Retrieved December 28, 2023 – via Wisconsin Historical Society.
  54. ^ Results of Fall General Election – 11/07/2000 (Report). Wisconsin State Elections Board. May 10, 2001. p. 2. Retrieved December 28, 2023 – via Wisconsin Historical Society.
  55. ^ Results of Fall Primary Election – 09/12/2006 (Report). Wisconsin State Elections Board. October 17, 2006. p. 6. Retrieved December 28, 2023 – via Wisconsin Historical Society.
  56. ^ Results of Fall General Election – 11/07/2006 (Report). Wisconsin State Elections Board. December 11, 2006. p. 3. Retrieved December 28, 2023 – via Wisconsin Historical Society.

External links[edit]

Party political offices
Preceded by
William Gerrard
Chair of the Wisconsin Democratic Party
Succeeded by
Michael Bleicher
Preceded by Democratic nominee for U.S. Senator from Wisconsin
(Class 1)

1988, 1994, 2000, 2006
Succeeded by
Sporting positions
Preceded by Owner of the Milwaukee Bucks
Succeeded by
U.S. Senate
Preceded by U.S. Senator (Class 1) from Wisconsin
Served alongside: Bob Kasten, Russ Feingold, Ron Johnson
Succeeded by
Preceded by Chair of the Senate Aging Committee
Succeeded by