Measuring effectiveness and ideology of Wisconsin’s members of Congress

By: - February 24, 2020 2:51 pm
US Capitol pictured at dusk

WASHINGTON, DC – The U.S. Capitol is shown at dusk (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Ron Kind doesn’t hold any leadership positions in Congress or chair any powerful committees or subcommittees. But he is nonetheless among its most effective members — at least according to a new report card by, a nonpartisan organization that tracks government data and analyzes the bills and votes of federal lawmakers.

The moderate Democrat placed 8th on a list of lawmakers ranked in terms of leadership, a score computed by using the number of cosponsors the legislators got to sign on to their bills last year.

Rep. Ron Kind in front of American Flag
Rep. Ron Kind (official portrait)

By that specific measure, which rewards bipartisanship, Kind was more effective than nearly all other House lawmakers — including numerous committee chairs and high-profile members. He also earned higher marks on this score than all other members of Wisconsin’s House delegation, including Reps. Jim Sensenbrenner, a Republican who represents the 5th District and the second most senior member of the House, and Democrat Mark Pocan of the 2nd District who co-chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus. (The list includes nonvoting members but not vacant seats, such as that formerly held by GOP Rep. Sean Duffy.)

Kind also wrote more bills — 37 of the 38 he introduced — that were cosponsored by members of the other party than all but one other member of the House.

“He really is making an effort to introduce and cosponsor bipartisan bills,” said David Canon, a political science professor at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. “That is something you don’t see that often right now in Congress.”

Kind ranked 6th (in the 99th percentile) on a list of lawmakers ranked by the total number of cosponsors their bills generated; tied for 11th (the 97th percentile) on a list of lawmakers ranked by the number of bills they introduced; and ranked 31st (the 87th percentile) on a list of lawmakers whose bills got out of committee and saw floor action.

And he tied for 7th (the 97th percentile) on a list of members whose bills became law last year. Three of his bills became law — a number that GovTrack says is more impressive than it might seem. One law helps ensure that hospitals receive adequate payment under Medicare. Another modifies retirement account rules for workers. The third expands public target ranges.

Kind explains the rankings as a reflection of years of building relationships with his House colleagues on both sides of the aisle and working to find areas of common ground.

“We need more of that,” he told the Examiner in an interview. “There are forces trying to pull us further apart and trying to put us in our respective tribes or corners.”

Those forces, he said, hit lawmakers from their first days in Washington. “Leadership of both parties does everything they can to keep us separate,” he said. Some solutions he recommends: more opportunities for lawmakers to get to know members of the other party, less “top-down management” and less legislation coming out of the Speaker’s office, which he said happens in both parties and is not conducive to establishing productive committee relationships.

Congress would function better “if we can get out of this political vortex” and “get the institution back to working the way it was intended,” he said, though he conceded that is not easy during a presidential election year.

It’s not as if the 12-term lawmaker — Wisconsin’s most conservative Democrat — has no formal power. He’s a member of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, the tax-writing panel with jurisdiction over Social Security, Medicare and international trade. He once chaired the New Democrat Coalition, a sizable group of centrists, and he now co-chairs its trade task force. And he heads up several other caucuses on issues relating to everything from health care innovation to parks and rivers.

He also has built a massive campaign war chest — and has a long history of bullet-proof bids for reelection to the seat in the 3rd district, which President Donald Trump won in 2016. Still, he said he’s “gotta be prepared” for whatever outside forces may come his way — noting that his district is the “key swing district in the key swing state” in a competitive election year.

State’s most conservative member among its least active

The state’s most conservative member, meanwhile, is one of its least active legislatively.

Rep. Glenn Grothman
Rep. Glenn Grothman

Rep. Glenn Grothman — a three-term Republican who represents a patch of the state north of Milwaukee and Madison — got the fewest cosponsors on his bills compared to any other member of the state’s House delegation, including Republican freshman Rep. Bryan Steil, of the 1st District.

Grothman tied for last in the delegation with Steil on a list ranking lawmakers by the number of influential cosponsors (or lawmakers on relevant committees) they got to sign their bills. He introduced the second fewest bills of the delegation, wrote the second fewest bipartisan bills and earned the second-lowest leadership score, beating out only Steil on those measures.

He doesn’t hold any leadership positions on committees, and none of his bills got out of committee or became law last year.

Grothman scored higher on a couple measures, including the number of bills he cosponsored and the number of bipartisan bills he signed on to last year.

His office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The state’s other House members — Pocan, Reps. Gwen Moore, a Democrat representing the 4th District, Sensenbrenner, who is retiring at the end of this session, and Republican Mike Gallagher of the 8th District — jumped around on those measures.

Grothman ranked as the 13th most conservative among all House lawmakers last year on GovTrack’s ideological rankings, which are based on the pattern of legislation that lawmakers cosponsored in 2019.

That puts him to the right of more than 400 other lawmakers in the lower chamber, including such firebrands as Reps. Jim Jordan of Ohio and Doug Collins of Georgia, two of President Donald Trump’s fiercest defenders on Capitol Hill.

U.S. Mike Gallagher (R-8th District)

Gallagher ranked 81st on the conservative-to-liberal scale; Sensenbrenner ranked 140th; and Steil, who succeeded former House Speaker Paul Ryan, ranked 159th. Among Democrats, Kind ranked 209th — in the rough midpoint of the chamber — and Pocan and Moore hewed to the chamber’s liberal end, ranking 397th and 427th, respectively, out of 437 lawmakers scored.

The analysis does not take votes, stated positions or other factors into account that may affect lawmakers’ ideological stances, such as caucus memberships, media appearances, social media posts, endorsements in campaigns or their penchant for bipartisan friendship.

On the Senate side, GOP Sen. Ron Johnson — who rode the “Tea Party wave” into office in 2010 — ranked as the chamber’s 40th most conservative member, while Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin placed 78th most conservative in the Senate, in about the middle of her caucus. This may surprise many Wisconsinites, who know her progressive stances and her advocacy work on universal health care and LGBTQ rights, among other issues, which place her among the more progressive senators in her caucus. But Baldwin has also made a point of reaching across the aisle to cosponsor legislation, including a bill to protect access to education for vulnerable girls, sponsored by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fl), and a bill to improve accounting by government agencies, sponsored by Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind) .

Baldwin introduced three bills that became law last year, while none of Johnson’s bills did, despite his party’s control of the chamber.

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Allison Stevens
Allison Stevens

Allison Stevens is a reporter for States Newsroom's Washington, D.C. bureau.