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Glenn Grothman

Glenn Grothman

U.S. Rep. Glenn Grothman probably speaks for all Republican House members when he says, “Obviously, I wish more Republicans would have won in Congress.”

But his take on what took Republicans from a 42-seat majority to minority status isn’t quite so universal.

Somehow, during the past two years, the town of Glenbeulah Republican asserts, voting Democratic among young people has become the “cool thing to do.”

“I think culturally, there are both young people and — I don’t know what you call them — young professionals, who feel it’s the in thing to do,” he said. “I think there’s an element of it’s fashionable.”

Grothman has been known for his unusual, and something politically incorrect, take on social issues and politics. But it’s never held him back from winning elections.

He served five terms in the Wisconsin Assembly, another decade in the Senate, then successfully ran for the state’s 6th Congressional District. After two terms in the House, he ran what he considered the toughest race of his career, and came out of it with a comfortable 11-point advantage.

Also winning big is the somewhat more conventional Mike Gallagher, an ex-Marine with an Ivy League pedigree and a Ph.D. Gallagher won his 8th District seat in northeastern Wisconsin two years ago and this week defended the seat by a 27-point margin. He’s considered one of the GOP’s rising stars, in the mold of Paul Ryan, who revels in the wonkish world of policy, especially in the realm of foreign policy.

While Grothman and Gallagher share job security, they diverge on many aspects of the political realm.

“I think the intensity of the health care debate has picked back up and the issue’s not going away,” Gallagher said, explaining an aspect of why Republican fortunes went south in the House. “I think we as Republicans need a bold, positive vision for fixing our health care system.”

Both Republicans will be walking into a different political world in January, after a lame-duck session starting next week during which the GOP will remain in charge for six weeks.

During that time we can expect another partisan fray over the border wall, funding for which is expected to be included in a Homeland Security appropriations bill.

It may be the most contentious issue Democrats face before they take the House majority in January, entering what some expect to be an era of gridlock.

“I think the overall environment has gotten far more negative,” Gallagher said.

Both Grothman and Gallagher said that there are areas where consensus can be reached, especially in infrastructure.

But Gallagher sees progress on the road ahead being made in small steps rather than giant leaps.

For instance, he wants to see more transparency in campaign finance, especially the “dark money” flowing into campaigns from PACs, which he calls a “huge problem.” And that’s something that Democrats, who plan to propose sweeping changes in ethics, elections and campaign finance, could probably get behind.

“I am increasingly in favor of something that would require transparency for funding,” he said. “It wouldn’t limit speech it would require people to know where was coming from to fund political campaigns.”

He’s also teamed up with Democrat Ed Perlmutter of Colorado on a bill that would improve price transparency in health care, a small step in the health care debate, but one that would advance the conversation.

“Maybe that’s a good strategy going forward,” Gallagher said. “Even in divided government, even as the partisan atmosphere gets worse in D.C., you can carve out small areas to move the ball forward.”

Democrats want to move the ball forward on other fronts where there may be some bipartisan consensus, on prescription drug prices and criminal justice reform, for instance.

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But there’s also a push to burrow into the Trump campaign’s relationship with Russia and other matters.

And Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., who’s expected to head the House Judiciary Committee, has hinted that he may consider impeachment proceedings against Trump and his controversial Supreme Court appointee, Brett Kavanaugh, whose confirmation hearings were marred by allegations of past sexual assault.

“I don’t think that’s a wise strategy,” Gallagher said, “and I think politically it will backfire on the Democrats.”

Grothman attributes a lot of the nation’s divisiveness to Democrats.

When asked if he thought Trump’s rhetoric has contributed to the vitriolic political atmosphere, he said, “I don’t think that.”

He said many of Trump’s statements have been “misconstrued,” and that the president is “tuned to the average American.”

“We had a president that had Al Sharpton to the White House like 80 times,” he said of Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama. “That’s pretty divisive. I don’t think Donald Trump’s ever been that divisive.”

He said that the Democratic vote was a “cultural statement.”

“I don’t know why you want to fundamentally change things that are going so well, especially in Dane County, where things are going so well,” he said. “Probably the coffee shops have never been selling more upscale coffee.”

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Steven Elbow joined The Capital Times in 1999 and has covered law enforcement in addition to city, county and state government. He has also worked for the Portage Daily Register and has written for the Isthmus weekly newspaper in Madison.