FOND DU LAC -- The three main GOP candidates vying for the 6th Congressional District took potshots at each other Tuesday night while trying to elevate their conservative credentials on issues ranging from overregulation to social issues.
State Rep. Duey Stroebel of Saukville opened the salvo against his competitors, state Sens. Joe Leibham of Sheboygan and Glenn Grothman of Campbellsport.
When asked what amendment they would add to the U.S. Constitution, Stroebel said he'd support a balanced budget amendment but chastised Grothman and Leibham for what he saw as a lack of commitment to that vision. Stroebel noted that the Assembly had approved a resolution to move forward with a constitutional convention on the idea, but that the Senate -- where Leibham and Grothman serve in leadership -- didn't bring it up for a vote.
"I think that when the rubber meets the road, you have to follow up your rhetoric with your actions here," Stroebel said. "We had the ability to move that along in this state, and we didn't do it. And I think that was a mistake."
Stroebel also charged his rivals voted for Dem Gov. Jim Doyle's budgets, but Leibham and Grothman pushed back against that suggestion.
"To suggest that I've been a big spender during my time in the Legislature is laughable," Leibham said. "And I suggest that you look at the record. Under the Doyle term, the Republican Legislature stood firm against Gov. Doyle in the 2003 and 2005 budget, and spending and growing government could have been a much greater problem. But we worked hard."
Grothman also dismissed the "career politician" label, saying that it had no bearing on whether someone advances conservative goals. Grothman pointed to a list of bills Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce said were "necessary" to help businesses in the state.
"Since Gov. Walker has become governor, I've authored 10 of those bills that Gov Walker has signed. Rep. Stroebel has been there during that whole time those 10 bills have been signed, he has authored none of them,” Grothman said. “There is no reason why as you're in Madison or in Washington, you cannot be a fighting conservative."
While Grothman and Stroebel would trade barbs throughout the night, Leibham mostly stayed out of the fray. The only time at which he critiqued the record of a competitor came when referencing a 2001 decision to use money from a nationwide tobacco settlement to plug a budget hole. He made a point of saying that he pushed back against leadership's desire to raid that fund and noted that "no one on this stage who was in the Legislature" voted with him, referring to Grothman.
The debate, hosted by the Fond Du Lac County Republican Party and the conservative media outlet Right Wisconsin, featured questions by radio host Charlie Sykes, former state Rep. Michelle Litjens, R-Oshkosh, and Rick Sense, the district director for GOP U.S. Rep. Reid Ribble. The fourth GOP candidate in the race, Tom Denow of Oshkosh, did not participate in the debate. The winner of the Aug. 12 primary will face Dem Mark Harris, the Winnebago County exec.
The candidates mostly agreed on the conservative-centric questions posed to them -- repealing Common Core, de-authorizing the Export-Import Bank and maintaining the aggressive stance against legalizing marijuana.
They also all said impeachment against President Barack Obama should be explored, though Grothman warned the public does not yet support such a move. He called that a "failure of the Republican Party" to explain how Obama has overreached during his time as president.
Stroebel, starting his answer, responded: "Well, Glenn, that was a different answer than you gave last week," referring to Grothman's statements at another forum that he'd support impeachment. Stroebel and Leibham said they would favor putting together a council to determine whether the president should be impeached.
While the audience was instructed to remain silent during the debate, Grothman prompted one outbreak of laughter and clapping when he was asked how he would explain that Republicans aren't waging a "War on Women." While all the candidates said they "didn't get" the idea that Republicans are "anti-women," Grothman said the GOP needs to make the case that "women have never had it better."
"Women are better off in this country than men," Grothman said. "They live longer than men, our state prison system … What? Eighty, 85, 90 percent plus are men, a much higher percentage of women are graduating from college, if you look at the earnings of single-women under 30, single women in general make more money than men. Men are more likely to commit suicide, men are more likely to die in car accidents. I mean … there ought to be a special commission to see what we can do to help the men."
-- By Jason Smathers