Petri's seat among top Wisconsin GOP primary races

  • Article by: M.L. JOHNSON
  • Associated Press
  • August 3, 2014 - 12:05 AM

MILWAUKEE — Three Republican lawmakers and a former teacher are vying for a shot at replacing retiring U.S. Rep. Tom Petri in the most competitive of Wisconsin's congressional primaries.

Petri, a Fond du Lac Republican, unexpectedly announced his retirement in April amid an ethics investigation into his stock holdings.

The three leading candidates in the Aug. 12 race are state legislators with fairly similar positions. Each has tried to present himself as the most conservative candidate, with Sens. Joe Leibham, of Sheboygan, and Glenn Grothman, of Campbellsport, going so far as to drop out of a debate sponsored by the League of Women Voters because the group opposed a voter identification law written by Leibham.

A federal judge earlier this year struck down the 2011 law requiring all voters to present state-approved photo IDs at the polls. The state has appealed.

Along with state Rep. Duey Stroebel, Leibham and Grothman have vowed to work to repeal the federal law overhauling health care and to cut federal spending. All three oppose abortion rights and the Common Core education standards adopted by Wisconsin and other states.

With so much agreement, Leibham, a 45-year-old former account executive at Sargento Foods, has worked to capitalize on his sunny personality. He frequently talks about his love for the United States, the "awesome experience" of campaigning and his "good solid upbringing" in a family with 13 children.

Grothman, a 59-year-old attorney known for his attacks on affirmative action, welfare benefits, early sex education and abortion, presents a stark contrast. But during a recent debate, both he and Leibham took issue with attack ads Stroebel ran that criticized those who voted to increase spending under former Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle as "insiders" and "career politicians."

"Are you saying if you have a Democratic governor, you're never going to vote for a budget?" Grothman asked.

Stroebel, a 54-year-old Saukville resident with extensive real estate and business holdings, has tried to portray himself as an outsider with only one full term in the state Assembly.

The fourth candidate, Tom Denow, of Oshkosh, has no experience in elected office. The 57-year-old retired technical college instructor says he would focus on expanding energy development to create jobs and that his election would show that voters in east-central Wisconsin's 6th District really want change.

Here's a look at two other interesting congressional primaries:


Rep. Gwen Moore, 63, faces a Democratic primary against Gary George, a 60-year-old attorney who was recalled from office as a state senator in 2003 and served four years in prison for a 2004 conviction in a kickback scheme with another lawyer.

George said he was running out of frustration with the ineffectiveness of Milwaukee's "political elite," a faceless group he also blamed for his 2003 recall. He also said his conviction amounted to a failure to disclose his legal clients, which he wouldn't have to do under today's laws.

"I'm not ashamed of anything I did," he said.

George said many of Milwaukee's problems are tied to unemployment, and that if elected, he would push for federal funding to create a research consortium involving the region's universities. He noted that Dane County has greatly benefited from jobs created as a result of work done at University of Wisconsin's research park in Madison.

Moore said she still has a "fire in my belly" when it comes to helping constituents in the 4th District, particularly women. She pointed to this year's passage of so-called safe harbor legislation aimed at ensuring that minors forced into sex-trafficking are treated as victims, not prostitutes. The bill Moore sponsored in the House with Rep. Erik Paulsen, a Minnesota Republican, also makes trafficking victims eligible for job training to help them get back on their feet.

"I think I've demonstrated my ability to work in a kind of impossible environment," she said, referring to the fierce partisanship that has stalled many bills in Congress.


Businessman Rob Zerban, 46, and independent filmmaker Amar Kaleka, 36, are competing in the Democratic primary for the right to run against Republican Rep. Paul Ryan in the 1st District.

Zerban, a former Kenosha County Board supervisor, lost to Ryan by 12 points in 2012. He has called for a higher minimum wage, Medicare for all and trade policies that keep manufacturing jobs in the United States.

Kaleka, whose father was killed in 2012 by a white supremacist at a Sikh temple near Milwaukee, has said tighter gun restrictions would be his top priority if elected. Kaleka attracted national attention when he entered the race, but he hasn't campaigned visibly and raised less than one-third of the $104,000 Zerban brought in last quarter.

Ryan, a formidable fundraiser, brought in $1.6 million in the quarter that ended June 30.

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