Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Even Without Paul Ryan To Kick Around, Randy Bryce Is Poised To Turn A Red Seat Blue


Unless you can make a clear case for outright villainy-- a really clear case-- Democratic primary voters do not like Democratic primary opponents attacking each other. They hate it. Republican primary voters love to see their primary candidates attacking each other, but Democrats want the attacks saved for general elections, not primaries. Sunday, Randy Bryce shared a stage in Lake Geneva with the very negative and desperate vanity candidate running against him. For her sake, I hope she learned that lesson-- and the one about being careful about what you wish for. Her barrage of negative slurs against Bryce, the clear front-runner, angered the audience and won her no votes. Bryce owned the room and refused to even acknowledge her weak, mean-spirited attacks. He concentrated on the positive messages of his campaign and on going after Bryan Steil, the Paul Ryan clone, Ryan is trying to deliver the GOP nomination to. He opened his remarks by saying on his first day in Congress he would either sponsor or co-sponsor a Medicare-for-All bill. That's what people want to hear and they reacted with loud, sustained cheers.

Saturday, Bernie is back in southeast Wisconsin, this time in Janesville (Ryan's hometown) for a rally with Randy at the legendary UAW 95 headquarters at 5PM. That'll be Bernie's second rally with Randy in Wisconsin this year. This morning, the 10,000 member South Central Building Trades union, which has always endorsed Ryan in the past, unanimously endorsed Bryce. How's that for momentum?

Monday, a few hours after the debate, Dan Kaufman ran a so-so piece about Wisconsin in the New Yorker, The Fall Of Wisconsin And The Rise Of Randy Bryce. Like so many observers have, Kaufman credits the meteoric rise of Bryce to the introductory video launched a year ago. It went viral and Bryce attracted both celebrity supporters and ordinary folks who would stop him on the street to talk and share their own stories about their families with him.

Kaufman had met Bryce while Bryce was working on the Scott Walker recall effort and Kaufman was covering it for the magazine. They stayed in touch.
CNN was hosting a town hall with Paul Ryan in Racine, a small city on Lake Michigan twenty-five miles south of Milwaukee, in the southeastern corner of the state. It was Ryan’s first town hall in nearly two years-- which some took as a sign that Bryce’s early success was making the House Speaker nervous. As I drove through town to the venue, I saw nearly as many vacant storefronts as open businesses. The industrial jobs that had sustained the local community for generations were mostly gone. According to the Economic Policy Institute, the passage of nafta and China’s admittance to the World Trade Organization have cost Wisconsin nearly seventy thousand manufacturing jobs, most in its industrial southeastern corridor. In the Walker era-- a period during which Republicans have maintained nearly uninterrupted control of the state’s governor’s office, legislature, Supreme Court, and most of its seats in Congress-- Wisconsin has also experienced a large decline of the middle class. Its child-poverty rate has increased dramatically, while funding for K-12 education and the state’s public university system has been sharply reduced. And union membership in the state, which had been fourteen per cent when Walker took office, has fallen by almost half-- a change that can be traced directly to the anti-union laws that Walker has championed.

A few hours before the town hall was scheduled to begin, dozens of protesters gathered nearby, on a patch of grass blocked off by barricades-- the sanctioned protest area. Many held sheets of paper with their Zip Codes written in black marker, proof of their residency in Ryan’s district and of their exclusion from a forum with their representative. Bryce showed up at around 5:30 p.m., trailed by campaign staff, intending to join the protesters. He was greeted like a rock star. The crowd was mostly older white union workers and Latino immigrants—the kind of voters Bryce was counting on to help him flip the district. Ryan had first won election to Congress in 1998, and the Democrats who had challenged him in 2014 and 2016 each failed to attract more than forty per cent of the vote.

Yet in the lead-up to the CNN town hall, Ryan’s poll numbers were falling. His campaign staff had begun arguing that Bryce was nothing more than a “liberal agitator,” but Bryce’s campaign had reminded people that Wisconsin’s First District wasn’t really that conservative a place-- it went for Barack Obama in 2008, and only narrowly for Mitt Romney in 2012, when Ryan served as the Republican Party’s Vice-Presidential nominee. And Ryan’s awkward relationship with Donald Trump-- occasionally issuing a mild rebuke of Trump’s latest sexist or racist outrage while supporting and serving as a prominent ambassador for the President’s agenda-- wasn’t playing particularly well back home.

Outside the town hall, Bryce did a local-TV interview, took selfies with a few young supporters, and talked to a reporter from Rolling Stone. Eventually, Bryce and his campaign crew headed for downtown Milwaukee, to watch the event from a bar. “You’re like a real-life superhero, Randy,” a woman sitting next to him said. Bryce smiled politely, then turned back to his phone, which he was using to tweet responses to Ryan’s performance. Bryce’s background would make him something of a novelty in Congress, which has long been occupied by the professional class. Of the four hundred and twenty-eight current members of the House of Representatives, three hundred and forty-seven have backgrounds in law or business. Only three are tradespeople. For many of Bryce’s supporters, though, his greatest appeal is that he is an ordinary worker, like them. “We don’t need a lot of people with classroom knowledge,” a retired Kenosha plumber named Tom Nielsen told me. “We need people who have experience in the field and know people who have suffered, been discriminated against, and got thrown under the rug and mistreated. These people deserve better.”

Bryce grew up in a working-class neighborhood on the southwestern edge of Milwaukee. His stepfather, Richard, was a beat cop, and his mother, Nancy, was a doctor’s secretary whose grandparents were immigrants from Poland. Bryce’s only memory of his birth father, a Mexican immigrant, is a box of crayons marked with “Enriquez”-- his father’s last name. Richard adopted Bryce and helped raise him. A proud patrolman, Richard could be forgiving, like the time he pulled over a group of Bryce’s teen-age friends for speeding and let them go without a ticket. But he could also be severe. When Bryce was eleven, Richard took him into his precinct house, put him in a cell, and closed the door. “It was a warning to follow the right path,” Bryce said.

... [Byrce] began to worry about Walker, who was then the Milwaukee county executive. Already a declared enemy of the county’s public-employees union, Walker was winning praise from national conservative organizations for his anti-union positions. In 2010, when Walker ran for governor, Bryce became one of the most active participants of the Milwaukee Area Labor Council, an umbrella group of the Milwaukee-area A.F.L.-C.I.O. locals. The Act 10 fight that followed Walker’s inauguration in January, 2011, made international headlines-- it came in the wake of the Arab Spring protests on the other side of the world, and was seen as a forerunner of the Occupy Wall Street movement that emerged the following September. During the protests, tens of thousands of people descended on Madison every day, including Bryce, who began taking off work to go to the capitol, driving two hours each way, morning and night. This commitment soon cost him his job working on an addition to a Nestlé plant in Racine. It also contributed to the strain on his marriage, which eventually ended in divorce.

Walker, for his part, had relished the conflict that Act 10 created. And, after he survived the recall effort, and watched the movement that had risen up to oppose him mostly dissipate, he became a politician whom conservatives talked about as a potential future President. In 2015, during a question-and-answer session at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, Walker was asked what he would do to confront Islamist terrorists such as isis. “If I can take on a hundred thousand protesters, I can do the same across the world,” he said.

While other Act 10 participants went back to their day-to-day lives, Bryce kept protesting: he participated in rallies for immigrants’ rights, Black Lives Matter, a fifteen-dollar minimum wage, and a unionization effort at Palermo’s Pizza, one of the largest frozen-pizza makers in the country. Around the same time as the union drive, Palermo’s terminated eighty-four workers who could not produce documents confirming their residency status. The company claimed that the firings were unrelated to the union campaign, but the workers didn’t see them that way. About a hundred went on strike, and Bryce joined them. He was the only member of the building trades to walk the picket line. “Whatever’s been going on, I’ve usually been involved with,” he told me once. “Just showing up and holding a sign and talking to people. It’s a way of saying, ‘I’m an ironworker, and I am with your cause.’ It’s something that keeps me going.”

...During the past seven years, Wisconsin’s Republicans, enabled by a combination of dark money, gerrymandering, and a weak Democratic opposition, have enjoyed unfettered control of the state. Tax cuts, deregulation, and other corporate-friendly policies have been at the top of the state government’s agenda, most recently exemplified by the four-and-a-half billion dollars in taxpayer subsidies that Walker and his allies want to give to Foxconn, the electronics manufacturer, in exchange for building an LCD-screen factory near Racine. Last month, Trump, Ryan, and Walker spoke at the groundbreaking ceremony of Foxconn’s plant. Bringing Foxconn to Wisconsin “is the most vivid picture of what a strong and healthy economy looks like,” Ryan said. Afterward, Trump held a fund-raiser for Bryan Steil.

Dale Schultz, a moderate former Republican state senator, once described to me a Republican caucus meeting he attended a few years back with a prominent conservative lobbyist, which in his view illuminated his party’s current approach. “All we need is fifty per cent of the vote plus one,” the lobbyist told Schultz and his colleagues. “If we get any more than that one vote, then we didn’t push the state far enough in the direction we want to push it, because we had votes to spare. And if we lose an election we’ll win it back, and then we’ll start up where we left off.”

Conservative activists see a model to emulate in Wisconsin. “Donald Trump’s unexpected victory in 2016 did not lay the groundwork for Republican political dominance,” the anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist wrote after Trump’s victory. “But the March 2011 signing of Act 10, a dramatic reform of public-sector labor laws, by Wisconsin’s Scott Walker certainly did.” Since Walker signed Act 10, Republicans in many other states have passed measures restricting collective bargaining. An extreme version of Act 10 was passed in Iowa in early 2017, after Republicans seized the governorship and both houses of the state legislature for the first time since 1998. The bill, supported by Americans for Prosperity-Iowa-- a non-profit group funded by the Koch brothers-- eviscerated collective-bargaining rights for Iowa’s hundred and eighty thousand public workers, and it went further than Act 10 by placing some restrictions on even police and fire-department unions.

The number of right-to-work states, meanwhile, now stands at twenty-eight-- Missouri, West Virginia, and Kentucky have joined the ranks since Trump’s election. A 2018 study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that right-to-work laws correlate with lower vote shares for Democrats up and down ballots, from Presidential candidates to state legislative races. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Janus v. afscme nationalized right-to-work for public employees-- a coast-to-coast threat to union funding and Democratic Party power.

Goal ThermometerWalker knew that by crushing labor in Wisconsin he could atomize his opposition. Whether the state’s labor movement can ever reacquire its past political power is unclear, but, after seven years of Republican control of the state government, Wisconsin’s beleaguered Democrats have begun winning small victories. Just a few months before Ryan announced his retirement, in a special election for an open state senate seat, a Democrat named Patty Schachtner trounced her Republican opponent in a rural western district that Trump had carried by eighteen points in 2016. “Everything we have done is at risk if we don’t win in November,” Governor Walker warned in a fund-raising e-mail after Schachtner’s victory. Since then, liberals have won an open seat on the Wisconsin State Supreme Court and another state senate race.

Bryce has drawn inspiration and hope from those victories, as he has in the success of underdog progressive candidates across the country this year, and in the recent wave of teachers’ strikes in West Virginia, Arizona, and Oklahoma. “We are going to have to go back to things like that to get what we need,” Bryce told me. “Without people doing the work, nothing is going to happen.”
Bryce is a private kind of guy, taciturn and brooding. Sometimes I get the feeling he hates politics and is revolted by politicians. I know he hates the negativity and slime and I worry if he'll stay in this for long enough to achieve his lofty, heart-felt goals. Sometimes I think he'd rather be "working the iron" than dealing with campaign bullshit and the ugly attacks a panic-stricken NRCC is planting about him, often through useful idiots. Yes, exactly, he's just like the rest of us, a flawed human trying to do his best in a new environment that must be scaring the crap out of him. He's not politically ambitious. He's ambitious to make the country a better place.

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At 9:28 AM, Blogger Gadfly said...

And, for people wanting to read beyond Howie, here's the actual debate summary: https://www.jsonline.com/story/news/politics/2018/07/08/paul-ryan-seat-democrats-cathy-myers-randy-bryce-face-off-debate/766838002/

At 9:33 AM, Blogger Gadfly said...

Oh, "vanity candidates" are the ones who lose multiple elections. Myers has won some. https://www.elitedaily.com/p/who-is-cathy-myers-paul-ryans-challenger-is-the-only-woman-in-the-race-exclusive-8340699


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