Published in The Moderate Voice on September 16, 2016
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<strong>Sarah Lloyd, with her husband on their 400 cow farm, is mounting an underrated challenge to tempestuous incumbent Glen Grothman</strong>
<strong>Photo via Lloyd4Wisconsin.com</strong>
If cows were constituents, dairy farmer Sarah Lloyd would have a sure-fire way to get to Congress.
Wisconsin’s Sixth Congressional district is emblematic of a Congressional race that, in a perfect world, would top the list of high-profile races. It is a race of opposites not just on the political scale but of personal characteristics, backgrounds, likability and even credibility. But very few political pundits view the seat as having even remote odds of changing partisan hands. Thus, it has garnered very little attention which has left a very appealing challenger, Democrat Lloyd with few funds to mount a challenge to a very unappealing freshman incumbent, Republican Glen Grothman.
To say the district is historically Republican would be speaking the literal truth. The Republican Party was founded in a log cabin in Ripon, which is part of the district. But just as past is prologue, there is today a decided Republican flavor at the local level and Wisconsin has some conservative pockets.
Much of the district, though not all, is made up of small towns. There are farms but also urban areas – Fond du Lac, Oshkosh and Sheboygen. But Barack Obama did carry it – narrowly, in 2008 (Mitt Romney shot back up to 53% four years later) and it is not without some working-class Democratic pockets.
It is said that many of the folks around Lloyd think the world of her. Conversely, Grothman’s rigid edge enabled him to eke out a primary win by fewer than 300 votes and a number of his statements throughout his long tenure on the political scene have left even die-hard Republicans scratching their heads. In the general, he did beat a well-respected name by 17% but 2014 was a very heavily Republican year in Wisconsin and nationally.
So what is Lloyd’s appeal to staking claim to an area that would normally be out of a Democrat’s league? Lloyd is Wisconsin. That might sound like an editorial-style political statement but, when one considers what the state is known for, it’s just fact. What is Wisconsin? The Dairy State. What is Lloyd’s profession? She is a proud dairy farmer. She has a 400 cow dairy farm near the Dells which she operates with her husband and in case that’s not considered credentialed enough in agriculture, she has served on to the National Dairy Board and the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board (the latter which was an elected office). Her website describes this as “work(ing) with farmers on building their farm enterprises and gaining access to better markets for their products.” Even Lloyd’s schooling had an agriculture bent. Her Ph.D is in Rural Sociology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and her Masters is from Swedish University of Agricultural Science. She specializes in solar energy and conservation and has helped the people of Russia, Sweden and Finland on those issues.
Though Lloyd’s political experience is limited, she is not a complete rookie (she served in Columbia County government.
Conversely, Grothman has held elective office for nearly a quarter of a century. He took his seat in the Wisconsin Assembly in 1993, then won election to the State Senate a decade later by challenging an incumbent Republican in the primary. He was serving as Assistant Minority Leader when he won his seat in Congress and he was preparing to challenge another incumbent of his own party, Tom Petri, who had served in Congress for 35 years. Grothman found Petri to centrist for his taste but the Congressman ultimately retired.
If Donald Trump is perceived as ignorant, jejune and offensive by virtue of how he phrases his sentences, Glen Grothman is the real thing. Videos of his speeches show carefully constructed remarks and there is little attempt to backtrack or do damage control. In fact, in a 2010 piece for <em>The Cap Times</em>, Shawn Doherty wrote , “You got to hand it to him – he is not one of these wimpy politicians afraid to open his mouth.” Only many Wisconsinites feel that, by doing so, he is not serving them well.
Much of Grothman’s penchant for controversy occurred as a state legislator. But not everything.
During Wisconsin’s infamous battle among union members, Grothman referred to a group who cornered him as “mostly college kids having fun, just like they’re having fun sleeping with their girlfriends on air mattresses.” During the fight to repeal the Equal Pay Act, he said, “You could argue that money is more important for men. I think a guy in their first job, maybe because they expect to be a breadwinner someday, may be a little more money-conscious.” In 2010, Grothman lamented how “our country is not going to survive if we continue this war on men.” And following the then-Democratic legislature’s approval of a sex-ed bill that mandated discussions on sexual education cover alternative lifestyles, Grothman replied that, “Part of that agenda which is left unsaid is that some of those who throw it out as an option would like it if more kids became homosexuals.” Instead, he waxes poetically to the days of his own high school years recalling, “Homosexuality, was not on anybody’s radar. And that’s a good thing.” He reportedly told the CEO of Planned Parenthood that it was essentially overrated because, “as a guy,” he has plenty of options available.
His outrage continues on universally accepted cultural celebrations. He bemoans Kwanzaa, pondering out out loud “Why we (must) still hear about” it. His hypothesis is that “almost no black people today care about Kwanzaa – just white left-wingers who try to shove this down black people’s throats in an effort to divide Americans.” He argues that Americans should treat it “with the contempt it deserves before it becomes a permanent part of our culture.” He feels the same about the holiday commemorating the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., which he calls “an insult to all the other taxpayers around the state.” Perhaps as a modern decade addendum, Grothman blames President Obama’s meeting with Rev. Al Sharpton for the decay of race relations. He wants Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Anthony Kennedy replaced with “two Clarence Thomases.”
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<strong>Despite his proclivity for controversy, Republican Grothman stands a strong chance at winning a second ter</strong>m
<strong>Photo via dailykos.com</strong>
More recently, Grothman hasn’t been shy about the reasons for supporting Wisconsin’s rigid voter id law, which courts have since struck dom. In 2012, he openly boasted that restrictions would help Romney carry the state. To that end, he sponsored legislation cutting back on early voting and eliminating weekend voting. This year, during the Republican Presidential primary campaign, he expressed hope that the eventual nominee would carry Wisconsin for the first time since 1984 because “now we have photo ID, and I think photo ID is gonna make a little bit of a difference as well.”
Views aside, Grothman had deficiencies as a candidate in his first run. He didn’t live in the district when he first began pondering a run but moved in with his mother in a Fond-du-Lock suburb when he announced his candidacy. There are signs Grothman’s ironclad conservatism has its limits when it comes to the home-folks. He backed renewal of the controversial Import/Export Bank because he felt losing I would be deleterious to jobs in the state.
Still, Lloyd calls many of his comment “like a 1950s attitude, and it’s 2016,” adding, “I don’t think it’s acceptable that our congressman hold that view of women, and their right to equal pay for equal work.” She credits Grothman’s “terrible views and policies” as her motivation for taking him on.
Lloyd’s philosophy hews proudly to the Democratic Party’s progressive wing and she supported Bernie Sanders for the Democratic Presidential nomination. She seeks to expand the Affordable Health Care Act, noting “many Americans are still falling into gaps in the system.” She refers to recent trade agreements as an “alphabet soup of trade deals (is) not supporting families and communities.” And naturally, Lloyd she seeks to incorporate her background, “a vibrant food system that produces good and healthy food that is affordable and accessible to consumers and supports everyone in the supply chain. Economically, lloyd believes “the powerful and wealthy special interests have stolen our democracy and rigged our economy.” On her style of democracy, Lloyd credits Citizens United for “letting the genie out of the bottle.” She told the <em>Portage Daily Register</em> that she is “going to people-power it” and often asks voters for $5 contributions, omitting the zeroes that many other candidates seek.
Her problem is the numbers. Columbia County is the third largest in the district and Democrats do well. Winnebago County, which houses Oshkosh and which is by far the most populous in the district is also friendly terrain. But Fond-du-Lac and Sheboygan have sizable population as well and Republicans run up the score. The last round of redistricting hurt Lloyd nominally as it removed two counties that leaned slightly to the Democrats (Adams and Calumet) as well as one that gave Obama/Biden substantial margins (Outagamie). While Lloyd can hope she has residual name recognition in the counties that border Columbia – Green Lake, Marquette and Dodge (though the latter is decidedly Republican), the fact is she will be relying on how Republican turnout potentially dropping due to voters unhappy with Donald Trump. Beyond that, the question is really whether Grothman’s past statements is enough of a turn-off, or whether Lloyd and Wisconsin Democrats have the resources to reach voters so that they can make it become a turnoff. Yes, two years ago, Grothman’s margin was more comfortable than what might have been originally anticipated. This year, Presidential level turnout means the electorate will be at least somewhat more Democratic.
Lloyd reminds me somewhat of Carol Shea-Porter. Upon unseating a two-term incumbent in 2006, Shea-Porter, with zero support from the national party (then Democratic National Committee chair Howard Dean couldn’t even name her the day after) proved the power of a volunteer-grassroots operation. On that score, she might hope that word of mouth, and perhaps under-the-radar feelings about Grothman, may boost her candidacy. But in reality, it might not be enough.
An editorial in <em>The Cap Times</em> called Lloyd’s challenge “an uphill one, to be sure.” But they added, “in this volatile year, when everything is up for grabs, her run opens up a possibility that voters need — and that they might just embrace.” And if anyone can pave the way for Lloyd’s opportunity, it’s Grothman himself.