Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) told dozens of Randy Bryce’s supporters July 14, “Workers are working longer hours for lower wages despite low unemployment. This campaign will change that, that’s what Randy is about, enough is enough.”
And that was the brightest day in the first two weeks of July for the Wisconsin Democratic Party’s shining star, one of two candidates in the party’s 1st Congressional District primary Aug. 14.
Randy Bryce admitted in early July that he does have a criminal record. Bryce was arrested for marijuana possession in 1991 and driving under the influence in 1998. In a crummy two weeks for him, Bryce had to deal with a 2015 New York Times Magazine article in which he called unions “lazy.”
Bryce wants to replace retiring House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). It seemed an insurmountable goal, but once Ryan announced his intention to leave Congress, Bryce’s ambition seemed justified.
As PJM reported, the “Iron Stache,” as Bryce is known, is the favorite of Hollywood’s liberal celebrities even though he’s never held elective office.
“This guy has been an ironworker for 20 years and drinks whiskey. He is the real deal. If you can afford to support him, please do. If you can afford to spread the word, please do,” comedian Chelsea Handler wrote on her Facebook page.
It isn’t just West Coast elites who support Bryce. In addition to Sanders’ support, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee endorsed him in March, a move that angered Democratic primary opponent Cathy Myers.
“No one has been able to answer this for me: Why is Randy Bryce a better candidate to beat Paul Ryan?” Myers said. “I’m talking about his qualifications, not his money.”
Relegated to the back pages in first few months of the campaign, Myers received a gift from CNN that could keep on giving through the summer: Bryce’s arrest record.
CNN discovered the pot and drunk-driving busts were only two of the arrests on Bryce’s rap sheet. He was arrested nine times during the 1990s. Twice he was arrested for protesting the policies of Ryan and Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), which his supporters applauded. But Bryce was busted three other times for driving with a suspended license, the result of the drunk-driving arrest, which occurred in Michigan.
Trying to make the point that that was then and this is now, Bryce told CNN he was a different man today than he was in the ’90s.
“There is no excuse for what I did 20 years ago when I got behind the wheel and operated under the influence,” Bryce said in a statement. “I made a mistake and I regret it. I’ve worked very hard to learn from my mistakes so I can be a man my son can be proud of. I’m not perfect, but I know the struggles working people go through. I understand the mistakes that any of us can make. I’ve certainly learned from mine.”
Still, the timing of his admission could not have been worse. Bryce owned up to the arrests just two days before he and primary challenger Myers were scheduled to debate.
Myers brought up Bryce’s past just 30 seconds into the debate.
“We’re not going to hold Trump accountable with viral tweets and poll-tested one-liners,” said Myers. “We have to elect someone that is not going to be able to win, but to serve.”
Bryce’s arrests weren’t the only sore spots from his past that have surfaced in the campaign. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel broke the story in November 2017 that Bryce was two-and-a-half months behind on his child support payments until he paid the $1,251 owed two months before opening his congressional primary campaign.
Just as with his pot and DUI arrests, the child support story was opportunity knocking for Myers, and she opened the door.
“When my ex-husband got behind on his child support, I had to take a second job,” Myers said. “I put my personal interests aside and focused all my attention on providing for my family.”
Bryce campaign spokeswoman Julia Savel pointed out that her boss’ financial problems occurred after Bryce had beaten a late-stage aggressive cancer. To make matters worse, Bryce didn’t have health insurance at the time.
“He was able to dig himself out of bankruptcy, which was related to his mounting medical bills, because he started his new career as a union ironworker,” Savel said.
“Randy has made mistakes, and as he said, there is no excuse for his actions,” Savel added. “But he also has worked hard to right his wrong and grow from the experience, like so many other working people find themselves having to do.”
However, Bryce’s past financial and legal difficulties were not the only dirty laundry aired in July.
Bryce was a quoted in a new book, The Fall of Wisconsin: The Conservative Conquest of a Progressive Bastion and the Future of American Politics by Dan Kaufman, as calling the labor movement “lazy.”
“People think that unions are useless today, that we’re dinosaurs,” Bryce also said in quotes pulled from a 2015 New York Times Magazine article. “Well, how did that happen? We let it happen. The labor movement has become lazy, because it’s something that’s been handed to us.”
The NYT Magazine article focused on Gov. Scott Walker’s success in winning approval for Wisconsin’s right-to-work law seen as anti-union legislation by Democrats.
Commenting on the quotes in The Fall of Wisconsin, Bryce pointed to the success of recent teacher strikes in Arizona, West Virginia and Oklahoma as the kind of strength unions should have shown during the debate over Wisconsin’s right-to-work law.
“I was hoping for something along those lines,” he said of his 2015 comments.
Myers jumped on Bryce’s quotes as quickly as she tried to use Bryce’s financial and legal strife as a verbal trampoline to make the point that she could better serve Wisconsin’s 1st Congressional District.
“I’m disappointed, but not surprised, that Randy would speak on an issue he clearly does not understand,” Myers said, “and would blame those whose families have been harmed for this unprecedented Republican attack on workers’ rights.”
None of this has done Bryce any good in July. A poll first published in the Washington Examiner showed Myers had pulled into a tie with Bryce. The Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC affiliated with Paul Ryan, conducted the survey, which showed 34 percent of likely 2018 Democratic primary voters would cast a ballot for Myers, while 33 percent said they would vote for Bryce.
“Wisconsin Democrats have a difficult choice between a deadbeat dad who has been arrested nine times or a candidate who not only wants to dismantle ICE, but calls ICE officers ‘thugs.’ We’re looking forward to defeating whoever comes out of the primary,” Corry Bliss, the Congressional Leadership Fund’s executive director, said.
“Just like Democratic primary voters,” Bliss added, “CLF is having a tough time deciding which candidate will be more fun to defeat in November.”