Hovde 2012 comments resurface about farmers, Social Security, and obesity

Hovde TV interview

US Senate candidate Eric Hovde was interviewed on WisconsinEye in July, 2012 during his first attempt to win the seat now held by Democratic incumbent Tammy Baldwin.

By Pat Kreitlow

March 25, 2024

“You’re largely driving around a tractor,” Hovde said of farmers in an interview, while also advocating for pushing back the retirement age and making overweight people pay more for health insurance.

Republican US Senate candidate Eric Hovde is still doing clean-up on Aisle 2012 before he can get his 2024 campaign off the ground—as more quotes from his first Senate campaign come to light. Among them: overweight people should be charged more for health insurance, younger people should work long past age 65, and farmers aren’t working as hard as in the past.

In the 36-minute WisconsinEye interview from July 31, 2012, the owner of a California bank talks about his belief that the workers of days gone by—farmers included—worked harder and faced more hazards.

“We don’t engage in hard labor like we did,” Hovde said. “We don’t have as many accidents on the job, most of us. Now we’re involved in some type of white collar profession or even professions that are involved in manual labor, it’s much safer, much more protective. Think of farming, look at the old physical toll that it would take on the body. Now you’re largely driving around a tractor.”

Hovde referenced the increase in average life expectancy as a reason to boost the retirement age to preserve Social Security and Medicare—programs he has referred to as “entitlements,” rather than earned benefits that Americans pay into throughout their working lives.

In the WisconsinEye interview as well as a videotaped meeting with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorial board, Hovde expressed his view that benefits “absolutely” need to be trimmed. He proposed a retirement age of 72 for workers in their 20s before they could qualify for retiree benefits.

On the subject of healthcare, Hovde again reiterated his view that the Affordable Care Act needs to be “completely repealed” and blamed some Americans for their own health issues such as obesity—even suggesting overweight people should pay more for health insurance.

“Look, we have an explosion of Type 2 diabetes right now,” Hovde said. “Obesity is off the charts. We’re removing people from being responsible for their own health. If they all started to realize that they’re going to pay more for their health care by, you know, consuming massive amounts of soda every day or fatty foods and not exercising, maybe they would change their behavior patterns.”

Melanie Jay, an associate professor of medicine at NYU and director of the NYU Langone Comprehensive Program on Obesity Research, told the Daily Beast Hovde’s view shows “either you’re not understanding or you’re really discriminating against people who have a chronic disease.”

“It’s assuming that obesity is some sort of moral failing that people need to be punished for,” she said. “That’s not true. It’s a pretty awful and dangerous thing to say.”

WisconsinEye reporter Steven Walters asked Hovde near the end of the interview about his political future if he were to lose that 2012 GOP primary.

“You’re a first-time candidate,” Walters asks. “If you don’t win the primary, do you plan to run for public office again?”

“No,” Hovde replied. “No. I’m doing this for a very simple reason. I know my economic skills and my background is something that is desperately needed in the United States Senate right now. I don’t plan to spend the rest of my life in politics.”

Hovde lost the primary to former Gov. Tommy Thompson—garnering 31% of the vote to Thompson’s 34% in a four-candidate field. Since then he has been a steady financial supporter to Republican candidates. 

Other Head-Scratchers

Hovde’s entry into the 2024 Senate race prompted the emergence of other comments that have been picked up by media outlets. 

During a 2012 radio interview, Hovde called out single parents for problems in society and raised the possibility of cutting benefits for mothers and children.

Saying he was “very concerned where this country is heading socially and morally,” Hovde referred to “one of the most troubling statistics that I can quote … is 4 out of 10 children born in America are born out of wedlock. That is a direct path to a life of poverty. I think we got to get our morals and our ethics back. And I think we got to, you know, get this country turned around.”

“We have to stop government policies that reward those that are having children out of wedlock and harming people that are having children in marriage,” Hovde said during a 2012 primary debate, according to reporting from The 19th

In 2017, Hovde said it may have been better if the sale of alcohol had never been made legal.

“I get the argument that marijuana is a lot less harmful than any other drug — including, arguably, alcohol,” Hovde said at the Jefferson County Republican Party dinner that year. 

“So, if we just decriminalize [marijuana]? Fine. Nobody’s going to go to jail. No one’s going to get arrested for it. That’s your self-determination, but you’re not going to turn it into an enterprise. Frankly, it should have happened with alcohol,” Hovde says in audio reported on by Rolling Stone. “I mean look at — alcohol has a lot of negative byproducts. If somebody wanted to distill it, drink it. Fine, go ahead. But, sadly, as we know, it’s produced a lot of negative byproducts as a part of society. I don’t think adding more negative byproducts to society is a healthy thing. And saying that, I think the cat’s out of the — or, the horse is out of the barn, and it’s going to be hard to put back.” 

Hovde has also come under criticism for investing tens of millions of dollars in countries that moved their headquarters to Bermuda in order to evade US taxes, according to Politico.

If no other candidate decides to challenge Hovde in the Republican primary, he will take on Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin in November.

Baldwin this week is conducting a statewide tour that includes a farm visit and a roundtable about farmers’ mental health concerns. There will be 12 stops over five days that include several stops at small businesses and meetings with local civic and business leaders.


  • Pat Kreitlow

    The Founding Editor of UpNorthNews, Pat was a familiar presence on radio and TV stations in western Wisconsin before serving in the state Legislature. After a brief stint living in the Caribbean, Pat and wife returned to Chippewa Falls to be closer to their growing group of grandchildren. He now serves as UNN's chief political correspondent and host of UpNorthNews Radio, airing weekday mornings 6 a.m.-8 a.m on the Civic Media radio network and the UpNorthNews Facebook page.



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