Sunday, April 06, 2014

Are You Having A Nice Weekend?


Everybody likes inoffensive, friendly, old Tom Petri, right? He's the 4th most senior Republican in the House-- having beaten Tommy Thompson for an open GOP seat back in 1979. His central Wisconsin district is a swing district that leans red. Obama eked out the narrowest of victories there in 2008 and lost to Romney in 2012. A former member of Steve Israel's Center Aisle Caucus for mainstream conservative Republicans and conservative Democrats, the GOP has consistently passed over Petri for a committee chair but the Democrats have just as consistently given him a free pass to reelection. They never challenge him-- never, not even in a Democratic wave election year. Steve Israel has pledged to never challenge any of his old Center Aisle frat brothers and Petri knows he can sit back and never worry about reelection as long as Steve Israel has anything to say about it.

But then, late last year, hired PPP to poll WI-06 (Oshkosh, Sheboygan, Manitowoc, Fond Du Lac, the Wisconsin Dells and the conservative, white suburbs north of Milwaukee). The results-- right after Petri voted with the crazy extremists in his party to shut down the government-- surprised everyone. His job approval ratings were underwater, only 37% of his constituents approving and, by a narrow, margin favoring replacing him with a Democrat. Take a look for yourself:

Israel, of course, ignored the poll and ignored the district, preferring to use precious and limited DCCC resources not against Petri in the R+5 district, but trying to get Bue Dogs and other conservative fake-Dems elected in more prohibitive and much deeper red districts-- like the execrable Jennifer Garrison (R+8), Patrick Henry Hays (R+8), James Lee Witt (R+15), Jackie McPherson (R+14), and Nick Casey (R+11). Of course Israel isn't allowing the DCCC to challenge any of the Republican incumbents in Wisconsin this cycle, even in the swing districts like WI-01 (Paul Ryan) and WI-07 (Sean Duffy), where there are very strong progressive candidates in the race, respectively, Rob Zerban and Kelly Westlund.

But not everybody ignored Petri's growing vulnerability. Way on the far right fringes of the Republican Party, West Bend extremist Glenn Grothman, the furthest right whack-job in the Wisconsin state Senate, sensed an opportunity to advance himself and his insane agenda. And his insane agenda goes beyond just the standard fare of the far right. Sure, he wrote the concealed carry legislation that Scott Walker signed into law in 2011 and he has been an outspoken opponent of equal pay for women, a fanatic opponent of LGBT equality and an advocate for tobacco companies-- all pretty standard Republican Party fare these days-- but that's where it gets bizarre. Grothman is the anti-chlorination nut (every legislature needs at least one) and the guy who obsesses over unpasteurized milk. He's also the guy who wants to abolish Martin Luther King Day as a holiday for state employees. And the weekend… yes, Glenn Grothman is another reactionary, union-hating Republican who wants to take the U.S. back to the "good old days" when workers had no right to even one day off for a weekend.

One of his colleagues in the state Senate laughed when I told him Grothman was running against Petri last week. "Let DC take him… He's caused nothing but problems for Wisconsin since he was elected to the Assembly in the early '90s… I don't think West Bend, where he lives, is even in Petri's district but everyone in Madison will be hoping to never hear from him again… He's really the quintessential ALEC puppet."

A Democratic congressional staffer from Wisconsin was less sanguine at the prospect of Grothman in Washington. "It's radical right asshats like Glenn Grothman that make serious legislators hate Washington so much and want to leave. You can't ever get any common ground between the two parties with extremist ideologues like him. I never studied more psychology than Psych 101 and 102 but I am confident in saying that the man is insane-- and a danger to democracy." Delusional Tea Party members and the Club for Growth are celebrating already.
Wisconites tired of relaxing on weekends and staying home on federal holidays are in luck: On Thursday, GOP state Sen. Glenn Grothman announced his challenge to 17-term moderate Rep. Tom Petri (R-Wis.). In a conservative district that went to Mitt Romney by seven points in 2012, Grothman hopes to channel dissatisfaction with Republicans in Congress whom he believes haven't done enough to slow down the Obama administration's policy agenda. But he comes with some baggage of his own.

In January, Grothman introduced legislation to eliminate a state requirement that workers get at least one day off per week. "Right now in Wisconsin, you're not supposed to work seven days in a row, which is a little ridiculous because all sorts of people want to work seven days a week," he told the Huffington Post. Eliminating days off is a long-running campaign from Grothman. Three years earlier, he argued that public employees should have to work on Martin Luther King Day. "Let's be honest, giving government employees off has nothing to do with honoring Martin Luther King Day and it's just about giving state employees another day off," he told the Wisconsin State Journal. It would be one thing if people were using their day off to do something productive, but Grothman said he would be "shocked if you can find anybody doing service."

MLK Day and "Saturday" aren't the only holidays Grothman opposes. At a town hall in 2013, he took on Kwanzaa, which he said "almost no black people today care about" and was being propped up by "white left-wingers who try to shove this down black people's throats in an effort to divide Americans."

When he's not advocating for people to spend more time working, Grothman has gotten in trouble for advocating that (some) people be paid less. "You could argue that money is more important for men," he told the Daily Beast's Michelle Goldberg, after pushing through a repeal of the state's equal pay bill. And he has pushed to pare back a program that provided free birth control, while floating a bill that would have labeled single parenthood, "a contributing factor to child abuse and neglect." Grothman justified the bill by contending that women choose to become single mothers and call their pregnancies "unplanned" only because it's what people want to hear. "I think people are trained to say that 'this is a surprise to me,' because there's still enough of a stigma that they're supposed to say this," he said in 2012.

Enjoy the weekend.
Grothman pointedly keeps his state office open on Martin Luther King Day, always eager to send a message of divisiveness, hated and racism. Although Scott Walker announced he is staying neutral, Paul Ryan has already issued a statement endorsing Petri against Grothman. That's not slowing Grothman down of course: "I don't think Congressman Petri in particular or the Republicans in general have been aggressive enough at all in [addressing] the increasing culture of dependency in this country and that culture has led to the breakdown of the family and this huge deficit… I think these programs have to be fundamentally changed to remove the marriage penalty and to remove the disincentive to work."

There is speculation that Grothman's challenge is making Petri, a multimillionaire many times over, reconsider whether or not he'll even run for reelection, although he told the press "I will run a strong campaign and I expect to win in August and November." Well, Steve Israel will take care of November for him again, but August… I guess it depends on whether Wisconinites are looking for another Joe McCarthy or not.

Will this be Grothman's top campaign issue?

UPDATE: And, Indeed, Petri Is Retiring

He'll make it formal on Monday but he's already told everyone he knows. Maybe someone should tell Steve Israel.

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