By; Mitchell Schmidt of the Wisconsin State Journal
Wisconsin’s House members hewed to party lines Wednesday to impeach President Donald Trump, with U.S. Rep. Ron Kind, whose district is the most narrowly divided among the state’s congressional districts, finally breaking his silence during the historic vote.
Reps. Mark Pocan, D-Black Earth, Gwen Moore, D-Milwaukee, and Kind voted in favor of the charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. Reps. Bryan Steil, R-Janesville, Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Menomonee Falls, Glenn Grothman, R-Glenbeulah, and Mike Gallagher, R-Green Bay, voted against both articles of impeachment.
Kind, D-La Crosse, was the only Wisconsin congressman to not indicate how he intended to vote ahead of Wednesday’s impeachment. That also made him the only Democrat representing a district Trump won in 2016 who didn’t reveal his position ahead of time, according to a tally by The Washington Post.
“I’ve reviewed the evidence and followed the hearings. It’s clear the President’s actions were a flagrant abuse of constitutional power; it was unlawful, and it jeopardized our national security,” Kind said in a statement. “Some have argued to let the voters in the next election decide. But how can we trust an election that the President is trying to corrupt?”
With Trump winning Kind’s district in western Wisconsin by four points in 2016, breaking a streak of Democratic presidential candidate victories, the congressman’s Wednesday vote could serve to reinforce his strength among Democratic voters, while also alienating some of Trump’s supporters in Kind’s more rural district.
Four of Wisconsin’s House members spoke on the floor during the six-hour debate. Kind, Gallagher and Steil did not.
Districts represented by Pocan and Moore have strong Democratic majorities.
“This is a vote for our Constitution, setting the precedent for all future presidents, Democrat or Republican,” Pocan said during the House floor debate Wednesday. “Donald Trump must be held accountable for his actions. Today we send a clear signal for this president and all future presidents. No one is above the law.”
Sensenbrenner, who is retiring after this term and serves on the House Judiciary Committee that forwarded the articles of impeachment last week to the House, spoke Wednesday against what he called “phony articles of impeachment.”
“We are here because the majority caucus, the Democratic caucus, has been hijacked by the radical left,” he said. “They have wanted to reverse the course of the 2016 election ever since Donald J. Trump won that election.”
Grothman accused Democratic lawmakers of embarking on impeachment proceedings the moment Trump was elected.
“This impeachment is not about anything that happened on a phone call, this impeachment is about what President Trump has done,” Grothman said. “President Trump is keeping his campaign promises and you hate him for that.”
Moore challenged the argument that Democratic lawmakers are using the impeachment to overturn the 2016 election.
“I agree, elections are the appropriate venue for public policy disputes, however we’re not talking about a public policy dispute, we’re talking about a president who subverted national security by soliciting foreign interference in our election,” Moore said. “The exact thing our Founding Fathers feared.”
Northern Wisconsin’s 7th Congressional District, formerly held by vocal Trump supporter and Republican Sean Duffy until his September resignation due to the birth of his ninth child, will remain vacant until a May special election.
Kind district split
Kind has won his House seat by comfortable margins. He didn’t face a general election opponent in 2016, when Trump won his district. In 2018, he won by nearly 20 points.
However, Marquette Law School polls from 2017 to 2019 have found an even partisan split in Kind’s district. Respondents over the last three years — including those who lean to a party — in the district have been 44% Democrat, 44% Republican and 10% independent.
Kind’s district also included the narrowest divide among respondents on whether or not they felt Trump should be impeached and removed from office. Polls conducted in October, November and December — with a sample of 287 total respondents — found 45% of respondents approved of impeachment and removal from office, while 50% were against.
“Kind’s is the only one that is sort of in the middle,” Marquette poll director Charles Franklin said. “The risk that he kind of runs is if there is a super mobilization of Trump voters in 2020 … In a close district like Kind’s, that might be a risky thing for him. On the other hand, Democrats are awfully riled up about this.”
Anthony Chergosky, a UW-La Crosse assistant professor of political science, said an impeachment vote forces Kind, who has trended more moderate than other congressional Democrats, to weigh in on what has become an intensely partisan issue.
“It puts him in a tough spot,” Chergosky said. “About half the district is going to be mad at him regardless of what he chooses.”
However, Joe Heim, emeritus professor of political science with UW-La Crosse, said voters in the 3rd Congressional District are “not dyed-in-the-wool members of their party.”
“People here are a little more willing to split their tickets than other parts of the state,” Heim said.
Chergosky added that Kind’s status as an incumbent and a lack of a high-profile GOP challenger should benefit him in 2020.
“If a Republican is going to win an election over Ron Kind, they’re going to have to win over voters who have supported him in the past and that is no easy task,” Chergosky said. “I think Ron Kind is pretty safe.”
Currently, Republicans Brandon Cook and Shannon Moats are vying for Kind’s seat.
Republican Party of Wisconsin executive director Mark Jefferson singled out Kind’s vote in a statement Wednesday night.
“Democrats like Rep. Ron Kind have tried to conceal their stance on the issue when they knew how they would vote weeks, if not months,” Jefferson said. “Today’s vote displays the sad state of politics where Rep. Ron Kind and other Democrats want to see President Trump fail at the expense of the American people.”
Michael Smuksta, chairman of the La Crosse County Democratic Party, still likes Kind’s chances of winning a 13th term next November.
“Even some conservatives, who may not be Trump conservatives, like what he does,” Smuksta said. “If he’s the nominee coming out of the primary facing a Republican, my bet is the voters in this district are not going to replace a Democrat with a Republican.”