Sen. Herb Kohl (D)
Elected: 1988, term expires 2012, 4th term.
Born: Feb. 7, 1935, Milwaukee .
Education: U. of WI, B.A. 1956, Harvard U., M.B.A. 1958.
Military career: Army Reserves, 1958–64.
Professional Career: Businessman; Pres., Kohl Corp., 1970–79; Chmn., WI Dem. Party, 1975–77; Pres., Herbert Kohl Investments, 1979–88; Owner, Milwaukee Bucks pro basketball team, 1985–present.
Herb Kohl, Wisconsin’s senior senator, is a Democrat elected in 1988. He grew up in Milwaukee, where his parents had opened a food store after emigrating from Russia and Poland in the 1920s. Kohl got degrees from the University of Wisconsin and Harvard Business School, then returned home and with his brothers, developed the family business into a department chain, which became the wildly successful Kohl’s department stores. They sold the business in 1975, and Kohl followed his love of sports into a new business venture. In a city smarting because of sports franchises with lousy records that were eager to move elsewhere, Kohl spent $18 million to buy the Milwaukee Bucks basketball team to keep it from leaving. His efforts to make the team respectable lost him money for several years, but he should turn a nice profit if he decides to sell the team—it was valued at $264 million by Forbes magazine in 2007. He has remained an active owner, involved in personnel decisions and pushing for a new stadium. Kohl is one of the richest members of Congress. He personally funds the Herb Kohl Educational Foundation, which has given millions of dollars in scholarships and grants to Wisconsin students, teachers and schools. He donated $25 million to the University of Wisconsin for the Kohl Center arena, which opened in 1998.
|Herb Kohl (D)||1,439,214||(67%)||($6,347,126)|
|Robert Lorge (R)||630,299||(29%)||($176,987)|
|Herb Kohl (D)||308,178||(86%)|
|Ben Masel (D)||51,245||(14%)|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2000 (62%), 1994 (58%), 1988 (52%)
Throughout his long career in business, Kohl was in Democratic politics as a contributor, and in the mid-70s, he was chairman of the Wisconsin Democratic Party. When Democratic Sen. William Proxmire retired in 1988, Kohl decided to run for the Senate. He spent his own money liberally, running an extensive ad campaign with the theme “Nobody’s senator but yours.” He won 47% of the vote in the primary to 38% for former Gov. Tony Earl. In the general election campaign, against moderate Republican state Sen. Susan Engeleiter, Kohl stressed his support of defense cuts—popular in dovish Wisconsin—and for requiring businesses to provide health insurance. Engeleiter stressed her environmental stands, her legislative experience and her status as a wife and mother. This turned out to be one of the closest Senate races in the country that year, with Kohl winning 52%-48% after spending $7 million of his own money.
Kohl is an earnest man of transparent good will, seemingly little guile and a natural tendency toward bipartisanship. In the Senate, he once told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, “there’s too much of the I-I-I-I, me-me-me-me, and these are my needs and you have to do them and you have to take care of me. When I see that in other people, I think it’s a weakness.” His voting record has been moderate to liberal. Kohl wrote the 1990 law banning guns in schools that was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1995. He was one of 12 Democratic senators who voted for the Bush tax cut in 2001, but he opposed the Bush tax cut in 2003. In October 2002, he voted for the Iraq war resolution but later called the administration’s handling of the war “mistake after mistake after mistake.” However, he resisted Democratic proposals for a specific timetable for withdrawing troops. In 2009, Kohl helped form the Moderate Dems Working Group, a coalition of 15 Democratic senators who, as Kohl put it, “still believe we need to be fiscally responsible and have a dialogue with amenable people of the other party.” That March, he voiced concerns about President Barack Obama’s 2009 budget, saying “deficits do matter.” Also that year, he voted against a procedural move that would have allowed a simple majority of senators to pass legislation creating an emissions-trading system among polluting industries as a way of limiting greenhouse-gas emissions.
Kohl and former Republican Sen. Mike DeWine of Ohio ran the Antitrust Subcommittee of the Judiciary Committee on a bipartisan basis in both the Clinton and Bush years. Together, they stopped several proposed megamergers: the proposed AT&T-SBC merger in 1997, the proposed American Airlines–British Airways merger in 1998 and the U.S. Airways–United Airlines merger in 2001. In 2005, they co-sponsored a bill to allow the Justice Department to seek wiretaps on antitrust violators. As chairman of the subcommittee, beginning in 2007, Kohl introduced legislation that would repeal antitrust exemptions for the railroad industry, although the bill was dropped after Bush threatened to veto it. In 2009, Kohl worked with Republican ranking member Orrin Hatch of Utah to revise the bill, which passed without opposition in the committee after rail-industry lobbyists accidentally emailed committee members their internal deliberations on how to kill the legislation. On the full committee, Kohl supported the nomination of John Roberts in 2005 to be chief justice of the Supreme Court, but in 2006, he opposed Samuel Alito’s appointment to the court.
Kohl, who chairs the Appropriations Committee’s agriculture subcommittee, has fought with uncharacteristic fierceness to change what he considers the unfair treatment of Wisconsin dairy farmers. Since 1937, the Agriculture Department has fixed national milk prices using a formula that allows higher prices the farther a farmer is from Eau Claire, Wis. This increases prices to consumers, creates an oversupply of milk, and reduces dairy prices in the upper Midwest. Further aggravating the problem is the Northeast Dairy Compact, set up in the 1980s, which allows New England states to set even higher prices. During the debate on the 1996 Freedom to Farm Act, Kohl persuaded the Senate to vote 50-46 to end the Northeast Dairy Compact, but in conference it was extended to 1999, and the agriculture secretary was ordered to set new milk-marketing rules by then.
In October 1999, New England senators inserted into an appropriations bill a two-year extension of the compact and rejected then-Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman’s new rules. Kohl was outraged and filibustered the bill. He was forced to desist but got verbal promises from leaders of both parties that the issue would be revisited. In 2001, he got 41 senators to sign a letter opposing the Northeast Dairy Compact, enough to threaten a filibuster if the issue was brought up, and on September 30, the compact expired. To take its place, Kohl helped pass in 2002 the Milk Loss Income Contract program, which pays dairy farmers if market prices fall. In its first three years, it provided $2 billion to dairy farmers nationally, and $413 million of that to Wisconsin farmers. In 2005, he and Republican Norm Coleman of Minnesota pushed for renewal of MILC, and he was pleased when the administration budget continued the program, though with a 5% funding decrease. He voted for the 2008 farm bill because it had provisions that would help Wisconsin’s dairy farmers, including the extension of MILC and increased payment levels for farmers.
On another subcommittee issue, Kohl consistently has pushed for higher funding for the Food and Drug Administration. In 2007, he made sure the FDA received a $1.8 billion budget for fiscal 2008, about $186 million more than it had received the previous year. In 2008, he pushed for another increase, of $375 million.
After Democrats won the majority in 2007, Kohl became chairman of the Special Committee on Aging, which he has used as a platform to advocate for a change in the law allowing the government to use its buying power to negotiate lower prescription-drug prices. Kohl also introduced a bill that encourages businesses to retain employees beyond their retirement age. In May 2007, he worked with other Wisconsin lawmakers to add funding for Wisconsin’s SeniorCare program to an Iraq war spending bill, circumventing a plan to end the program and move senior citizens to the national Medicare plan. The following year, he introduced legislation with Republican Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa to increase regulation of nursing homes.
Kohl has been re-elected easily, with the help of his personal fortune. He spent $6.5 million of his own money on his campaign in 1994 and $5 million in 2000. His ability to self-finance has deterred many well-known Republicans from running against him. Former Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson flirted with the possibility in 2006 but declined. Republicans eventually nominated attorney Robert Gerald Lorge, a perennial candidate. Kohl spent more than $6 million on his re-election and sailed to a fourth term with 67% of the vote. If he completes his fourth term, he will be tied for Wisconsin’s second-longest-serving senator, still far short of Proxmire’s 31-year tenure.