Even for a legislator from one of the most politically conservative districts in Wisconsin, state Sen. Glenn Grothman, R-West Bend, has an impressive appetite for provocation.
Few lawmakers, even those from the solidly Democratic districts in Madison and Milwaukee, are as seemingly addicted to bashing opponents as the second-term senator, whose district, which includes parts of Washington, Ozaukee, Fond du Lac, Sheboygan and Calumet counties, is the most solidly Republican of the 33 state Senate districts in Wisconsin.
He attributes almost any economic problem to either affirmative action, welfare or both and has said that the United States' very existence is threatened by a "war on white men."
In similar fashion, he put out a statement last week denouncing a bill proposed by U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin, who is running for U.S. Senate, that would require the Department of Health and Human Services to collect data on the sexual orientation and gender identity of people enrolled in public health programs, such as Medicare and Medicaid.
“Even if Tammy Baldwin succeeds in ramming her radical agenda through Washington, Wisconsin cannot let its doctors and patients be pushed around. I am sure most doctors in my area would be appalled at the federal government ordering them to ask such questions to their patients,” Grothman said in the statement.
Baldwin's bill, which was introduced in 2010 and remains in committee, does not refer to doctors. It refers to surveys that those participating or applying for federal medical programs fill out. HHS uses a variety of surveys to evaluate public health and recognize trends. Her intention behind the bill is help track health disparities and gather more information on LGBT health.
Significantly, the bill sponsored by Baldwin also specifies that providing sexual orientation and gender identity would be voluntary.
Nevertheless, it is increasingly standard practice for physicians to ask adult and adolescent patients about their sexual activity and sexual orientation.
The American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Medical Association both urge physicians to discuss sexual orientation with patients frankly, citing the unique challenges and risks that face particular groups. Gay men are at increased risk of sexually transmitted diseases, for instance, and transgender individuals are often more vulnerable to cardiovascular issues because of the hormone treatment they sometimes undergo.
Indeed, I remember being asked such questions at physicals as a teen. It was usually followed by similarly blunt inquiries about drug and alcohol use and suicidal thoughts.
"You must have had a weird doctor," opined Grothman in a phone interview. "I'm not sure what you do with that information. I think it's a strange question for a doctor to ask an adolescent."
The senator concedes his knowledge of Western medicine might be slightly outdated.
"I usually avoid doctors," he says.
Grothman says he hopes to introduce legislation that would prevent Wisconsin from being subject to such mandates as Baldwin proposed, assuming they one day materialize. His bill would furthermore criminalize the distribution by a federal official of a form that "requires a minor to identify (his or her) sexual orientation."
Again, Baldwin's legislation would do no such thing. Grothman nevertheless says the federal government has "no business" creating such mandates, and that he would like the state to more often challenge the concept in court.
Given these antics, it is easy to see why Grothman has become a reliable bogeyman for Wisconsin progressives. In fact, two weeks ago, at Fighting Bob Fest, few stickers were more ubiquitous than those for Tanya Lohr, Grothman's Democratic opponent this fall. While few of the attendees hailed from Grothman's district, there were few causes to which they were more enthusiastic to lend their support than his defeat.
Lohr, a high school teacher in West Bend, says she only became politically active in the wake of Gov. Scott Walker's anti-union agenda. She led an unsuccessful effort to prompt a recall election of Grothman (the group fell short of the necessary signatures in the conservative district) and was active in the effort to recall Walker.
When I first met Lohr at the state Democratic convention in June, her brochure included a list of Grothman's most inflammatory comments. Which one does she believe has most offended his constituents, I ask in a phone interview on Saturday.
"The most alarming one was his saying money is more important to men than women," she says. "That's not just offensive to women. That's offensive to men."
Lohr, who acknowledges she is running in a very conservative area, emphasizes her commitment to listening to constituents and compromising.
"The number one concern (people have) is jobs, but the number two concern is 'getting along,'" she says. "People want to be able to go to family reunions and weddings and Thanksgiving dinners and not worry about fighting."
Of the nine races for Assembly and Senate that Grothman has run in, this is the first in which he will face a Democratic opponent. Thus, even if Lohr, whose chances of winning are probably somewhat comparable to the Badgers' chances of winning the national championship, gets handily defeated, she will have made history.
Correction: This article was corrected to reflect the fact that Sen. Glenn Grothman does not represent "all" of Washington and Ozaukee counties, as was reported. Sen. Alberta Darling represents portions of those counties as well.