In 21 years as a state lawmaker, Republican U.S. Rep. Glenn Grothman was known for making provocative comments, such as: Homosexuality should not be discussed in sex education classes and the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday is "an insult" to taxpayers.
Grothman’s remarks have gotten less attention since he was elected in 2014 to a House seat in east-central Wisconsin that has been safely Republican for decades.
So, it was a surprise when Grothman, who is seeking a third House term in 2018, said he is facing the toughest race of his political career against Democrat Dan Kohl. Kohl himself isn’t well known, though he is the nephew of multimillionaire and former U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Wis.
A mantra of Kohl’s campaign -- that Grothman "is the single-most partisan member of the House" -- is something we want to check.
The charge (sometimes with the word Congress instead of House) appeared as recently as Nov. 7, 2017 on Kohl’s campaign Facebook page. And it is one he has made repeatedly, including on TV, on Twitter, in a campaign video and in his campaign announcement.
As we’ll see, there’s a solid source to back up the claim. But its data is nearly a year old and it acknowledges it uses only one way to measure partisanship.
The latest Bipartisan Index ranked Grothman as the second-most partisan House member, ahead of only Kansas Republican Tim Huelskamp.
Kohl argues that Grothman is currently the most-partisan because Huelskamp, who lost his run for re-election in 2016, is no longer in the House.
But the rankings are for the 114th Congress, which covers Grothman’s first two-year term in the House (2015-’16). They don’t take into account any activity since 2016, including any new member now in a first term.
The rankings are done by the Lugar Center, a think tank formed by Richard Lugar, an Indiana Republican who served in the U.S. Senate from 1977 to 2013; and the McCourt School of Public Policy at Georgetown University. The rankings have been reported on by Politico, The Hill, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Roll Call and other media that cover Congress.
The index measures bipartisanship in two ways -- the frequency with which members of Congress sponsor bills that include at least one co-sponsor from the opposing party and co-sponsor bills introduced by members of the opposing party.
As the Journal Sentinel has reported, it’s just one of many ways to define bipartisanship, but it’s a concrete, quantifiable measure of the effort members make at the front end of the legislative process to work across party lines.
According to the Bipartisan Index, during the 2015-’16 session, Grothman sponsored eight qualifying bills, none of which gained a single Democrat co-sponsor; and co-sponsored 276 qualifying bills, only nine of which were introduced by a Democrat.
Grothman’s House office noted that GovTrack.us, which tracks Congress, also does bipartisanship rankings.
We found two for House members for the 2015-’16 session, though each is less comprehensive than the Bipartisan Index. One had the same finding as the Bipartisan Index -- that Grothman did not introduce any bill that had a Democratic cosponsor. For the percentage of bills cosponsored by each legislator that were introduced by a member of the other party, Grothman ranked fifth from the bottom.
Grothman's office also cited to us a number of Grothman’s bipartisan actions, all during 2017, including: Grothman expressing disagreement with fellow Republicans over legislation; working with U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison, on legislation for refinancing student loans; and co-sponsoring a GOP-sponsored bill, also supported by Democrats, to legalize hemp.
Kohl says Grothman "is the single-most partisan member of the House."
One widely noted index ranked Grothman as the second-most partisan member during the 2015-’16 congressional session, above only a member who is no longer in the House. That arguably makes Grothman the most-partisan currently.
But the index is only one way of defining partisanship, and it doesn’t account for any House member activity after 2016.
For a statement that is partially accurate, our rating is Half True.