100 days in office: Rep. Tom Tiffany’s record in the 7th Congressional District

Published: Aug. 27, 2020 at 12:37 AM CDT
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WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAW) - Wednesday marked 100 days in office for freshman Congressman Tom Tiffany, elected in May’s special election in Wisconsin’s sprawling 7th Congressional District after nearly-ten year incumbent Rep. Sean Duffy resigned last fall. His short term, soon to be tested in the fall’s general election, has been punctuated by a voting record falling further right at times than even other Republicans in Wisconsin’s Congressional delegation as well as headlines early on calling for resignations of state officials.

He’s been more than twice as likely to vote no than yes in the 72 roll call votes he’s participated in since his swearing in on May 19th to a House of Representatives controlled by Democrats and currently stalled over new pandemic relief legislation. Eighteen bills have become law since May 19, many of them with House votes falling in his tenure, and include a split from other Congressional Republicans as well as the President when he voted against the Great American Outdoor Act, now signed into law.

“We have a federal government that is over $23 trillion in debt and they’re talking about buying more land,” he said in an interview Wednesday. The landmark public lands conservation bill, originally introduced by a Democrat, garnered bipartisan support when Colorado Senator Cory Gardner threw his weight behind a modified version amid a reelection bid in need of a boost.

He also voted against the removal of Confederate statues in the U.S. Capitol, breaking with Wisconsin Republicans Rep. Mike Gallagher and Bryan Steil in July in a bill brought by Democrats to remove statues of people who served in the Confederacy or supported slavery in the Civil War. Other key points of his first few months also include helping introduce legislation that would cut federal funding for schools choosing not to reopen to in-person learning in the fall. When asked how his position aligned with Republican ideologies that includes a focus on local government control, he repeated his citation of concerns from parents regarding their children’s quality of education as well as exceptions in the bill that would provide leeway for COVID-19 outbreaks.

One of the most critical functions of a Congressman’s early days is putting together a staff, UW-Stevens Point political science professor John Blakeman noted. Rep. Tiffany says he’s staffed offices to handle constituent concerns across the district, which spans all or parts of 26 counties in northern, central and western Wisconsin, and adds that he plans to resume regular town halls (but did not have a specific response for whether he was planning for weekly, monthly, or other regular timeline.) Prof. Blakeman said another more recent trend for new representatives, beginning in part with the 2018 wave that brought the highest historical number of women to the House and shifted it back to Democrat control, is the pressure to immediately take public stances through social media while courting donors and fundraising for the next cycle.

“They tend to be somewhat unpredictable on legislative outcomes,” Blakeman said. “So that’s the environment Representative Tiffany has entered, where freshmen in Congress are immediately focusing on fundraising.”

But developing a political brand is a function that already comes naturally to Rep. Tiffany after nearly a decade in Wisconsin’s capitol as first a state representative and soon afterwards a state senator.

“A lot of first-year members of congress are often working hard to establish their own political credentials and reputation,” Blakeman noted.

In the district where Pres. Trump was a heavy favorite in 2016 and where Rep. Tiffany beat Democrat challenger Tricia Zunker by thirteen points in May (and will re-face this fall), both Rep. Tiffany’s voting record and his two separate headline-grabbing calls for the resignations of Wisconsin’s Department of Health Services secretary-designee Andrea Palm and Governor Tony Evers point to a political base lying steeply to the right. As reported by Wisconsin Public Radio, Rep. Tiffany earlier this week in a virtual town hall organized by the Greater Wausau Area Chamber of Commerce told listeners that preventing employees who contracted COVID-19 from suing employers in businesses and schools was the “most important” issues Congress could deal with this year.

When asked whether the effects of lawsuits brought over failures to protect workers superseded the issues of unemployment or the public health crisis resulting in hospitalizations and deaths for thousands, he reiterated his position to NewsChannel 7.

“When you talk to these school administrators and businesses, they’re contact me regularly saying we really have great uncertainty at this point whether we’re going to be sued,” he said. “So it is really of great concern.”

Since March, COVID-19 has taken more than 1,100 lives in Wisconsin and 180,000 deaths across the country, as well as hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations where longterm health effects are becoming an increasing concern. Unemployment nationwide averages 11% and 7% in Wisconsin after employers in March started sending employees home, laying off workers, or later shutting doors entirely as the pandemic spread throughout the country. In Wisconsin, a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel investigation found more than 1,500 employees had gotten sick and 8 had died in food processing plants where COVID-19 precautions weren’t adequately implemented.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty with COVID-19 yet,” Tiffany said. “These people who are in positions where they’re managing enterprises, whether it’s schools or businesses, they’re making real-time decisions.”

Tiffany’s May and November Democrat challenger, Wausau school board president Tricia Zunker, has been outspoken in her criticism of his voting record--including the removal of confederate statues, funding for the U.S. postal services, and his proposed legislation that would cut federal funding for schools who didn’t return to in-person learning in the fall, with limited exceptions.

“Rather than siding with a bi-partisan coalition, Rep. Tiffany has once again demonstrated that he is simply President Trump’s rubber stamp in Congress,” she said of his vote against postal service funding.

The two will face off once again in the fall general election, where down ballot voting in the presidential election will play a key role in Congressional races across both parties nationwide.

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