Rep. Tom Petri (R)
Elected: April 1979, 15th full term.
Born: May 28, 1940, Marinette .
Home: Fond du Lac.
Education: Harvard U., B.A. 1962, J.D. 1965.
Family: Married (Anne); 1 child.
Elected office: WI Senate, 1972–79.
Professional Career: Peace Corps, Somalia, 1966–67; Law clerk, Fed. Judge James Doyle, 1965–66; White House aide, 1969; Practicing atty., 1970–79.
The congressman from the 6th District is Tom Petri (PEE try), a Republican first elected in the 1979 contest to succeed Steiger. Petri had spent his early years in Puerto Rico, where his father, a Navy pilot, was stationed. Petri’s father died in World War II. His family moved to Fond du Lac, where, as a teenager, Petri was the host of a popular Wisconsin radio show called “Teen Time.” Petri got both his undergraduate and law degrees from Harvard University, then was a Peace Corps volunteer in Somalia. In 1972, at age 32, he was elected to the state Senate. Two years later, he was the Republican nominee running against Democratic Sen. Gaylord Nelson. He walked across the state campaigning, but lost 62%-36%. When he ran for the House in 1979, Petri beat Republican Tommy Thompson, then a state legislator, in the primary 35%-19%; he won the special election with 50%.
|Tom Petri (R)||221,875||(64%)||($1,271,787)|
|Roger Kittelson (D)||126,090||(36%)||($17,207)|
|Tom Petri (R)||21,839||(100%)|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (100%), 2004 (67%), 2002 (100%), 2000 (65%), 1998 (93%), 1996 (73%), 1994 (100%), 1992 (53%), 1990 (100%), 1988 (74%), 1986 (97%), 1984 (76%), 1982 (65%), 1980 (59%), 1979 (50%)
Petri has a centrist voting record in the House. He long supported the Earned Income Tax Credit, a policy most closely associated with Democrats that guarantees a tax credit to low-wage earners. During the Clinton era, Petri called for expanding the EITC with a $1,000 tax credit per child. Congress adopted a similar plan, although it went along with President Bill Clinton’s proposal for a $500 per child credit. Later, Petri focused on alleviating what he called the poverty trap: As low-income households increase their earnings, they become ineligible for the EITC and other federal benefits. In 2004, Petri joined the bipartisan call for a $500 grant to all newborn children, to be held in an investment account and used after age 18 for an education or a first home.
After the 2000 elections, Petri hoped to become chairman of the Education and the Workforce Committee—he was the most senior Republican on the committee—but his party’s leadership passed over him and installed the fourth-most-senior Republican, John Boehner of Ohio, who went on to become the majority leader. Petri decried the “purge of moderate Republicans,” and afterward, his voting record became even more moderate. Working with California Democrat George Miller in 2005, he sponsored a $1,000 increase in Pell college grants, to $5,050 a year. The same year, Petri was one of 12 House Republicans to vote against a proposed constitutional amendment to ban flag desecration, and in February 2007, he was one of 17 Republicans to oppose President George W. Bush’s troop surge in Iraq. Also that year, Petri supported Democratic efforts to expand the State Children’s Health Insurance Program and the Democrats’ energy bill, which called for limits on greenhouse-gas emissions. In early 2008, while other Republicans were attacking Democrats for a year of a “do-nothing Congress,” Petri was more generous, describing the past year to the Sheboygan as “more of a getting-oriented Congress.”
From 1995 to 2006, Petri was chairman of the Highways and Transit Subcommittee—a key subcommittee of Transportation and Infrastructure—and he played a major role in highway and other transportation bills. In 2005, he argued for increases in transportation spending. In the subcommittee and the full committee, he pushed for a $375 billion bill, funded by a 5-cent gas-tax increase. He also pressed for ending the 5.2-cent lower tax on ethanol. One reason for the high spending was the need to propitiate donor states—those that got back less than 100% of their gas-tax revenues (they wanted at least 95 cents on the dollar)—and the states that got back more than they kicked in but objected to any cuts. Also stuffed in the bill were expensive special projects for individual members’ districts. The Bush administration threatened to veto any tax increase, and Congress finally passed a $286 billion bill. Included were projects for Petri’s district: $25 million for Sheboygan to link local centers with bicycle and pedestrian paths and $10 million to replace the Wisconsin Street Bridge in Oshkosh.
In 2006, after Democrats won control of the House, Petri was the most-senior member of the full Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and hoped to assume the ranking Republican slot. Once again, the leadership passed him over, this time for the more-partisan John Mica of Florida. “Maybe I’m missing something,” Petri told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “Sometimes I think you can be more effective by working with people.” He became ranking Republican on the Aviation Subcommittee. Despite his setbacks in Washington, Petri has been re-elected easily and was among the few Republicans who ran without opposition in 2006. In 2008, Petri won with 64% of the vote, outperforming GOP nominee John McCain by 15 percentage points in the district.