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During his 21 years as a Republican state lawmaker in Wisconsin, Glenn Grothman has been perceived either as an authentic conservative who speaks his mind with refreshing candor, or as a fringe character who makes extreme, often offensive, observations.
He has been quoted saying the topic of homosexuality should not be discussed in sex education classes, the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday is "an insult" to taxpayers, people who use food stamps don’t "act as if they are genuinely poor," and so forth.
Now, he’s going national.
In claiming the seat held for 35 years by retiring GOP U.S. Rep. Tom Petri, Grothman won a four-way primary, then drubbed Democrat Mark Harris by 16 points in the Nov. 4, 2014 general election. The former attorney, who now calls Campbellsport home, is already finding that his reputation precedes him, as he has been featured in articles in the New York Times, Politico and other prominent media.
Given the attention Grothman’s been getting, this is a good time for In Context, a PolitiFact Wisconsin feature we use to flesh out statements that get widespread notice.
Here’s a look at five of Grothman’s most incendiary comments, and some context to go with them.
"You could argue that money is more important for men."
That Grothman quote is from an April 2012 article on The Daily Beast news website. Columnist Michelle Goldberg wrote about how GOP Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker had signed legislation repealing a law that made it easier for women to sue over pay discrimination.
Grothman supported the repeal, saying the law unreasonably raised the cost of doing business.
Goldberg asked Grothman about an American Association of University Women study that said college-educated women earn only 80 percent as much as similarly educated men a year after graduation.
The American Association of University Women is a pretty liberal group ….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. To attribute everything to a so-called bias in the workplace is just not true.
The money-and-men statement sparked outrage on both sides of the political divide.
"At a time when Republicans are battling the ‘war on women’ fallacy," conservative Wisconsin blogger Ashley Schultz wrote, "do we really need statements like this coming from a conservative congressman?"
Kwanzaa, "the supposed African-American holiday celebration," should be "slapped down."
On Dec. 28, 2012, Grothman issued a news release that slammed it.
Here are excerpts, beginning with the start of Grothman’s statement:
Why are hard-core left wingers still trying to talk about Kwanzaa – the supposed African-American holiday celebration between Christmas and New Year’s? As has been well publicized, Kwanzaa is not some African or African-American tradition ....
Of course, 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 ….They don’t like America and seek to destroy it by pretending that its values as expressed in the Declaration of Independence and our Constitution don’t apply to everyone. Mainstream Americans must be more outspoken on this issue. It’s time it’s slapped down once and for all ….
At the time, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel blogger Eugene Kane, who is African-American, wrote that Kwanzaa "has taken hold in some segments of the black communities -- but not all -- for its spirit of pride and dedication to time honored values ….. Why Grothman decided to display his disregard for Kwanzaa based on his clearly inaccurate opinions on how the holiday is viewed by most African-Americans is a mystery to me."
Single parenthood is "a contributing factor to child abuse and neglect."
In February 2012, Grothman introduced a bill that would have imposed this requirement on the state Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Board:
In promoting those campaigns and materials (to fight child abuse), the board shall emphasize nonmarital parenthood as a contributing factor to child abuse and neglect.
Grothman explained his proposal by saying a study showed that children who live with a biological parent, and that parent's boyfriend or girlfriend, "have a 20 times greater chance of being sexually abused."
We rated that claim True. Grothman accurately quoted a federal study that found the rate of sexual abuse among children who live with a biological parent and the parent's partner is 20 times higher than the rate for children who live with their married biological parents.
Rick Ungar, a liberal blogger for Forbes, said Grothman’s proposal was "taking crazy to new levels."
He wrote: "To be fair, data reveals that there are more incidents of child abuse in households with only one parent than in households with two parents. But the data does not indicate that this factor is somehow more responsible for child abuse than the other factors," such as adults who engage in substance abuse or domestic violence. "So, again, why single this factor out to include in the state’s statutes and not the others?"
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said "he is going to send American scientists to Uganda to explain how normal homosexuality is."
This Grothman statement stems from an anti-homosexuality law enacted in Uganda, and Kerry’s reaction to it.
The measure, which carried harsh sentences for homosexual acts, became law in February 2014. In signing the legislation, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni cited the conclusion of a team of Ugandan scientists, who said they found no genetic basis for homosexuality.
Kerry called the law’s enactment a "tragic day for Uganda and for all who care about the cause of human rights." A month later, the website BuzzFeed reported that Kerry said Museveni would meet with American "experts" on homosexuality, and that he hoped the Ugandan leader would change his mind.
In April 2014, the Right Wing Watch website posted a video from an interview in which Grothman was asked about preserving marriage as being between a man and a woman.
He quickly turned his comments to Kerry, saying:
We have the Secretary of State going to Africa and educating Ugandans -- or saying he is going to send American scientists to Uganda -- to explain how normal homosexuality is. I mean, think about that. I mean, what must God think of our country? You know, we had such a great country in the relatively recent past. Now America, supposed to be the light of the world, instead we’re the light going the opposite direction.
And I guess I wish we had more political leaders and religious leaders speaking out and saying, What in the world is John Kerry doing? I mean, what must God think of our country if now -- again, rather than sending people to Uganda to explain better agricultural techniques, sending missionaries to Africa educating people on Christianity -- we send scientists to Africa to say how wonderful the homosexual lifestyle is? It’s just unbelievable what’s become of our country.
By October 2014 -- after a court struck down the Ugandan law on a technicality, and lawmakers there moved to advance new anti-gay legislation -- news agencies reported that Museveni signaled he was having second thoughts about the law. He expressed worry that even a version with lesser penalties could lead to a trade boycott against his country.
"This war on men."
At a suburban Milwaukee tea party rally in 2010, Grothman warned about the potential of America’s demise. Here’s how he ended his remarks:
Any big company will tell you this: (The government is) doing what they can to promote the women ahead of the men. Now, in addition to the fact that that leads to a little bit of chicanery -- as people pretend the woman’s owning the company when the guy’s owning the company -- in the long run, a lot of women like to stay at home and have their husbands be the primary breadwinner.
You have to ask yourself, in this country, can we continue to exist if we have a government which is actively discouraging the government or the businesses from hiring men? And that’s a very sensitive issue, but that’s what’s going on in America today. It’s another issue that nobody is tackling ….
Our country is not going to survive if we continue this war on men.
During his campaign for Congress, Grothman was accused of going uncharacteristically silent. The perception of many was that Grothman had the election in the bag, so there was no point in stumping too hard -- and potentially saying something that would damage campaign.
But it would be a surprise if Grothman became cautious as a congressman.
People "want somebody who's going to say what's on their mind, tell it like it is," Grothman told a Milwaukee TV interviewer during the campaign. "And I've got a lot of people voting for me saying, 'Glenn, I don't always agree with you, but I always know where you stand. You don't talk like a politician.'"
To comment on this article, go to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel website.
Go here to see Grothman’s record on the Truth-O-Meter.
PRWatch, "Meet Wisconsin’s wacky new congressman," Nov. 8, 2014
Isthmus, "Glenn Grothman: The agitator," March 3, 2011
AlterNet, "Meet your new top 6 craziest Republican representatives," Nov. 7, 2014
Mark Harris campaign, "Real Glenn Grothman" TV ad, Oct. 21, 2014
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Glenn Grothman’s incredibly stupid war on Kwanzaa," Jan. 2, 2013
WISN-TV, "Upfront with Mike Gousha" interview of Glenn Grothman, Aug. 24, 2014
The Daily Beast, "Wisconsin nominates wingnut to Congress," Aug. 13, 2014
The Daily Beast, "Wisconsin’s repeal of equal pay rights adds to battles for women," April 7, 2012
Bloomberg, "What would a GOP candidate say if he absolutely, positively couldn’t lose?" Nov. 2, 2014
New York Times, "House hopefuls in GOP seek rightward shift," Sept. 28, 2014
Scribd.com, Glenn Grothman Kwanzaa press release, Dec. 28, 2012
WTMJ-TV, "West Bend Sen. Grothman won’t apologize after Kwanzaa comments," Jan. 2, 2013
Huffington Post, "Glenn Grothman, Wisconsin state senator, fights for a seven-day work week," Jan. 3, 2014
Right Wing Watch, "Glenn Grothman says John Kerry upset God by condemning Uganda’s anti-gay crackdown," April 25, 2014
BuzzFeed, "Secretary Kerry: U.S. to send scientists to discuss homosexuality with Ugandan president," March 18, 2014
Mother Jones, "This Republican who wants to end the weekend is probably headed to Congress," Sept. 26, 2014
Washington Post, "Glenn Grothman has me pegged, I can’t stand Kwanzaa," Nov. 12, 2014
YouTube, Glenn Grothman tea party rally speech, posted Aug. 7, 2010
PolitiFact Wisconsin, "GOP Wisconsin state senator says study shows kids living with parent and parent’s partner ‘20 times’ more likely to be sexually abused," March 25, 2012
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Why the WI-06 primary should matter to all Republicans," Aug. 8, 2014
Politico, "Animal House?" Nov. 6, 2014