Petri-Grothman race a battle for 6th Congressional District’s conservative soul


By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter

MADISON, Wis. – State Sen. Glenn Grothman wants to take his fight against “government dependency” to Washington.

The West Bend Republican on Thursday announced he will challenge long-time U.S. Rep. Tom Petri for the 6th Congressional District seat Petri has held for 35 years.

FRUSTRATED CONSERVATIVE: State Sen. Glenn Grothman, R-West Bend, on Thursday announced his campaign for Wisconsin’s 6th Congressional District. He’ll face longtime U.S. Rep. Tom Petri, a Fond du Lac Republican in an August primary. Grothman says he’s frustrated with a lack of action on tackling increased “government dependency.”

Speculation has grown in recent weeks that Grothman, among of the most conservative members of a state Legislature dominated by Republicans, would challenge Petri, a Republican who has been wrapped for selling out conservative principals and a “go-along, get-along” style of representation.

Grothman, in a news release announcing his candidacy, described Petri as a “decent, genial person,” although lacking a “sense of urgency” to take on the perilous fiscal challenges facing the federal government.

“Whether it be welfare reform, education reform, or fiscal responsibility, we need changes from Washington,” Grothman said in the release. “The next six years will determine the fate of America. Congress and the nation are at a turning point, and we need a leader that will put America back on the right path.

The state senator, who says he plans to move to Campbellsport in Fond du Lac County to be in the heart of the district, points to federal spending that has climbed 68 percent since 2000, and a $17.5 trillion U.S. debt that has tripled during the past decade and a half.

But Grothman says he is more concerned about the “massive trend towards government dependency,” noting the surge in the number of Americans on food stamps, public housing and public disability since 2001.

Grothman, who has served the state’s 20th Senate District since 2005, said the “rush towards government reliance has lead (sic) to the well-documented destruction of the American nuclear family, which will have severe, negative consequences for the next generation.”

And the challenger, going up against an entrenched Republican congressman who has had very little challenge during his long tenure in office, suggests that Petri is part of the problem – that he hasn’t been conservative enough to stop the constant barrage of big-government spending.

Petri disagrees.

“My record of pragmatic conservatism will speak for itself. I respect Glenn and the work he’s done at the state level. I will run a strong campaign and I expect to win in August and November,” the congressman said in a statement released Thursday morning.

Petri’s conservative credentials are difficult to question, according to his staff. They point to Petri’s multiple votes against raising the U.S. debt ceiling since 2005, not including the Budget Control Act of 2011, and assert that his record marks the congressman as a “consistent opponent of wasteful government spending.”

Petri has voted against numerous spending measures during his 35 years in office, just as he has cast his vote for numerous bills that have bloated the size and scope of government.

Remember “Cash for Clunkers”? Petri threw his support behind a supplemental appropriations bill that spent an additional $2 billion to give consumers a subsidy for trading in their old vehicle for a new, more fuel efficient model.

He signed off on the Obama administration plans to “stimulate” the flagging economy in 2009, including a bill that appropriated $10 billion for an Education Jobs Fund “to be allocated to the states for the retention, rehiring, or hiring of elementary and secondary education employees.”

‘PRAGMATIC CONSERVATIVE’: U.S. Rep. Tom Petri says his record speaks for itself and that he expects to win another term in Congress.

Petri has voted for billions of dollars to fund the federal Head Start Program, an education initiative that critics say has failed to merit its investment.

The congressman has been criticized for his support of an amendment that would allow states to create single-payer, government-based health plans. Such “European-style (health care) reform” would force “all consumers to get their insurance directly through a government entitlement program,” according to conservative outlet Media Trackers.

Petri, however, points to his previous comments, saying his support of single-payer options ends at a state’s right to choose.

“I am open to government plans, and even single-payer, on the state level, as a states’ rights issue. Let the different states figure out what works and what doesn’t, Petri said in a 2009 column in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

While he has often resisted the expansion of federal social welfare programs, the past few decades in which Petri has served in Congress have marked a time of pronounced federal government spending increases.

The number of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamp, participants, has soared from 21 million in 1980 to more than 47.6 million last year.

During the past 20 years, federal spending grew 63 percent faster than inflation, according to a report by the conservative Heritage Foundation. Discretionary spending has risen from $813 billion in 1993 to $1.213 trillion in 2013, despite a decline of $100 billion from 2012 due to federal sequestration.

Federal disability ranks have exploded, from 5 million people in 2001 to nearly 9 million last year.

In 2011, the U.S. held a dubious honor, in that 44.7 percent of the population paid no federal income taxes.

“Among the greatest danger is that the swelling over time of the ranks of Americans who enjoy government services and benefits for which they pay few or no taxes will lead to a spreading sense of entitlement that is simply incompatible with self-government,” the Heritage report asserts.

“Government programs not only crowd out civil society, but too frequently trap individuals and families in long-term dependence, leaving them incapable of escaping their condition for generations to come.”

Grothman has earned tea party conservative cred, and the vitriolic lash of liberals, for championing a long line of fiscally and socially conservative legislation.

Will those conservative credentials help him or hurt him against a veteran Republican congressman with a lot of money and a lot of support within the inner party circle? Will conservative 6th Congressional District voters see Petri as part of the solution or part of the problem? The answers to those questions will come in the August primary.

Contact M.D. Kittle at