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Editorial: A smart, serious challenge to Wisconsin's worst congressman

Editorial: A smart, serious challenge to Wisconsin's worst congressman

Glenn Grothman made national news on the night of the Wisconsin presidential primaries, when he explained why he thought a Republican nominee such as Donald Trump — or the even more outrageous Ted Cruz — might win Wisconsin after credible Republicans such as George H.W. Bush, Robert Dole, George W. Bush, John McCain and Mitt Romney had failed.

“Now we have photo ID,” said the Wisconsin congressman, “and I think photo ID is gonna make a little bit of a difference.”

Grothman revealed the dirty little secret of Republican advocacy for restrictive photo ID laws. As the Think Progress political website has observed, “Study after study shows voter fraud isn’t a real issue in Wisconsin or elsewhere. But as another recent paper indicates, voter ID laws do have one benefit, at least for Republicans — suppressing reliably Democratic votes.”

This wasn’t the first time that Grothman revealed himself to be a wild-eyed partisan with a penchant for win-at-any-cost politics and a fierce anger over the democratization and diversification of the United States. No one rages against the future with more energy than Grothman, who famously campaigned as a Wisconsin state senator against the annual Kwanzaa celebration of African heritage in African-American culture.

“Why must we still hear about Kwanzaa?” Grothman demanded to know, before griping about “hard-core left-wingers” forcing holidays on America.

After Grothman was elected in 2014 — as a replacement for Tom Petri, one of the last responsible Republicans in the House — Politico writer Alex Isenstadt described the new congressman as “a 59-year-old tea party firebrand who attracts headlines the way that character in ‘Charlie Brown’ draws dirt. Grothman has called for the elimination of the African-American-themed holiday Kwanzaa — which he says should be treated with ‘contempt’ — and the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, which he has called an ‘insult.’

"That’s just for starters.”

Grothman is no more representative of Wisconsin values and sensibilities than Trump or Cruz. He was elected because of gerrymandering and because Wisconsin Republicans run better in off-year elections, which do not have an attention-grabbing and turnout-generating presidential election on the top of the ballot.

So could Grothman be beaten in a presidential-election year — especially one where a Trump or Cruz might weigh down a Republican ticket? The congressman doesn’t think so. He’s counting on the photo ID law and the gerrymandering to protect him. But if ever there was an opening to remove a congressman who regularly embarrasses himself and his state, 2016 would seem to be the year.

And Sarah Lloyd would seem to be an ideal challenger.

A farmer who (with her husband Nels Nelson) runs a 400-cow dairy operation near Wisconsin Dells in Columbia County, Lloyd has deep roots in rural Wisconsin, where she has served as a member of the Columbia County Board. Yet she is, as well, a state and national leader regarding rural development, food policy and related economic issues. She has worked for many years with the Wisconsin Farmers Union and she represents Wisconsin dairy farmers on the National Dairy Board and the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board. She’s a member of both the Advisory Board for the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point College of Natural Resources and the Citizens Advisory Committee for the University of Wisconsin-Madison Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems.

Lloyd is, as well, one of the most internationally experienced congressional candidates Wisconsin has seen since Petri and former Congressman Les Aspin began their careers in the 1970s. With degrees from Brown University, the UW-Madison and the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, she has worked on sustainable forest management and development issues in Russia, Sweden and Finland. She’s fluent in Swedish, conversant in Russian, and more prepared than most sitting members of Congress to discuss global environmental and trade policy.

Lloyd is dramatically better prepared to serve in Congress than Grothman. And she is dramatically more serious about representing the 6th District, which includes farm country, small towns and industrial centers across a vast stretch of central and eastern Wisconsin.

A Democrat and an economic realist who recognizes that the policies of Republican and Democratic presidents have failed to effectively challenge the destructive influence of Wall Street speculators and multinational corporations, she has a 21st century worldview that rejects failed approaches to trade and job creation. On trade policy, in particular, Lloyd has the experience, and the vision, to recognize: “Trade deals must be designed and negotiated so they put workers, farmers, and communities first. They must have strong provisions to limit currency manipulation, which is a major factor in creating trade deficits.”

“Congress’ authority to set trade policy must be protected,” explained Lloyd, who pointed out: “‘Fast track’ trade authority is not acceptable. It undermines Congress’ role in protecting the interest of the American people.”

Lloyd is right on the specifics. More importantly, she gets the full picture, arguing, “Now is the time for all of us, as citizens, to push back and demand an economy that works for people and communities and not just for the multinational corporations.”

That’s a populist message that is in tune with the sentiments of a district where Democratic voters overwhelmingly backed Bernie Sanders in the April 5 primary and Republican voters displayed deep skepticism with regard to the elite consensus on economics.

Sarah Lloyd’s challenge to Glenn Grothman is an uphill one, to be sure. But 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.

 

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