Our Series on Candidates Running in 2018
On June 18, Randy Bryce announced his bid to unseat House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) in Wisconsin’s first congressional district. His announcement has been an internet sensation, getting over 460,000 views with the campaign still two weeks in its infancy. “I’m just a typical construction worker,” Bryce says. He thinks that it’s time to “trade places” with Paul Ryan.
Randy Bryce, who goes by the name Iron Stache, highlighted Paul Ryan’s support for the American Health Care Act of 2017 (AHCA). “We are terrified that we’re going to have our health care taken away from us,” Bryce tells the Progressive Army. “It’s a tax break for the richest people.” Bryce favors a single-payer Medicare for All system.
Bryce also supports other progressive positions such as raising the minimum wage to $15, making public colleges free, and fighting anti-union “Right to Work” legislations. On social issues, he supports LGBTQ rights and women’s rights to choose.
But with all the media attention that he garnered since his announcement, some questioned his sudden rise. I spoke with the Wisconsin native to hear his response to critics, and understand his positions on other important issues.
Salam Morcos: You decided to challenge Paul Ryan in the next election, and as you are aware, the district voted Republican for the past 20 years. Ryan won with over 30% in the last election. How do you plan to change that?
Randy Bryce: Well, I look at the last 20 years of what happened [in the district]. [Paul Ryan] is a career politician, but he hasn’t done anything to help us out. And I’ve been working as long as he’s been in Congress. I drive around my son, and I point out things that I literally built; people that we stood by helping… whether teachers or workers that want better working conditions. And meanwhile Paul Ryan, he hasn’t been here for – it’s getting close to two years. He’s in the process… they’re doing this Healthcare bill. They want to take away people’s health care. And just the fact that people here are working harder and getting less to show for it… We’ve had enough! The district has been in his favor, thanks to gerrymandering. But if you look at his recent numbers, they show that he is very unpopular in the area… that more people would vote for somebody else than him if they could.
Morcos: So I want to ask you since you mentioned the AHCA. You speak to the people in the district. Are they buying the [Republican] argument that people would not lose their health care?
Bryce: Oh no! People are worried. We are terrified that we’re going to have our health care taken away from us… that they’re taking away any protections that were in place by Obamacare. I am a cancer survivor; that’s going to make me have a pre-existing condition. Just looking at what’s contained in the bill that’s in Congress, it’s a tax break for the richest people. It’s not giving anybody anything. And then looking how they’re doing it in the Senate, in secret behind closed doors, they’re not doing anything to help the people… not just for the [people of Wisconsin’s] first district, but across the whole country. And Paul Ryan might be Speaker of the House, but he’s not speaking out on behalf of working people’s houses.
Uniting the Left
Morcos: So then in that case, for you to be able to mount such an upset against the Speaker of the House, you’ll probably need a united front from workers, from the left, from the youth who typically don’t vote in the midterms. And as you know, Sanders supporters, or the Sanders wing of the Democratic party, feel disenfranchised and some of them feel cheated by the Democratic establishment. What would be your message to them? How would you unite the left?
Bryce: It’s a simple message. If you look at the video that was released, there’s nothing brilliant in it. It’s a basic message about a working guy who’s looking after his son, his mother. My dad is not in the video, but he has Alzheimer’s. It’s everybody’s story. There’s nothing ingenious about the message… it’s just me having enough and saying: “Look! Who do you want to represent you? Would you rather have one of us making decisions and voting on laws that affect us? Or do you want somebody like Paul Ryan who is afraid to come to the district, and even tell us what’s contained in this bill?”
Bryce Responds to Critics
Morcos: Since you announced your campaign, you have been featured all over the news. I’ve seen articles about you in the Washington Post, the New York Times, the LA Times, appeared on MSNBC… you name it. So two of my colleague in an op-ed argued that this couldn’t possibly happen to an ordinary candidate without the backing of the establishment. How would you respond to that?
Bryce: You know what happened during the election? I’m a member of the Iron Workers Union, and our Union endorsed Hillary Clinton before the primary. I was contacted by the Bernie Sanders campaign because people in the area know who I am. They know where I’ve been since Scott Walker got elected. They know I’ve tried to keep him from getting elected when he was County Executive. So I was contacted.. [the Sanders campaign] called and they asked the local people who is somebody that can represent working people. We want them to speak at a rally, and so they contacted me. I was working on a skyscraper, the newest one in downtown Milwaukee and I very clearly remember the call. I mean, like I said, who gets a phone call on a construction site from a presidential campaign asking them to come speak at their rally that they’re going to have in a couple of days?
So as far as establishment… if that doesn’t paint a picture… if that’s somebody’s picture of establishment, then I guess I’m guilty. I’m just a typical construction worker.
Anyways, I told them I can come talk at the rally because I support Senator Sanders. I love his message for the working people… for being a representative of us. I appreciated him walking picket lines on behalf of working people because that’s what I do too. I’ve been in picket lines throughout the state. It’s been on a birthday of mine in Michigan – December 9th is my birthday – when they [had] jammed through Right to Work… then I went down to Indianapolis during the Super Bowl after they passed Right to Work [laws] in that state. And the Indiana AFL-CIO told everybody to stay at home, “don’t make a fuss, we are having visitors.” I said forget that. I took people from Wisconsin who are fed up here, and we went down to Indianapolis. We had a rally on the front steps of the state capitol, and then we marched throughout the capitol like the Super Bowl village that they had. [We were] passing out flyers, talking about how Right to Work [laws are] going to hurt them.
So again, if that’s an establishment candidate, then I’d ask what the definition of establishment is.
But one condition I told the Sanders campaign was that my union endorsed Hillary. So I’ll go, but it’ll be as me… as myself. I’m not going to mention that I’m an iron worker, I’m going to do it on my own time… which I did. And after I spoke at that rally, I got phone calls, and I got blowback from it. But some people within our international head said: “Look, he can do whatever he wants. He’s a public person. If he’s going to do something on his own time, he’s allowed to do that.” I voted for Bernie Sanders during the primary too. After the primary, Hillary Clinton was declared the winner, so I started pushing her. Because I’m chair for the veteran’s caucus in the state.. and it’s not just labor issues, but it’s veteran issues as well.. so I got a group together to push to try to help her get elected to be president. My thinking is that anybody would have been better than Trump… than who we have now. So that’s what I did.
And as far as, anything else… I can see it from both sides. I understand people being upset about the process at the DNC. I’ve helped get people [to] vote for newer members at the DNC. And I just shake my head when people are pointing at me and saying “he’s the establishment candidate.” I mean if you google my name like “Randy Bryce” or “Ironworkers,” you’ll see where I’ve been, even during Occupy Milwaukee when that was going on.
My son has been on more picket lines than 90% of the people in this country. And he gets it. He understands why I’m sacrificing our time to do what I’m doing. It’s not because it’s fun. It’s because somebody needs to stand up for all the wrongs that have been perpetrated against working people in this country. I mean, I get fired up talking about it. It’s something I’m very passionate about.
Morcos: From my perspective, I think that when it comes to establishment or not establishment, it really boils down to the issues. So I’d like to turn to some of the key issues that matter to progressives.
Bryce: Okay, great.
Money in Politics
Morcos: What would be your position on fighting the influence of money in politics?
Bryce: Money needs to be taken out of politics. I’m in favor of public financing… give everybody a certain amount of money to run, and that’s it! Everybody gets the same amount, whoever has the best message wins, not whoever outspends the other person. And I refuse to take any money. I’m not going to take a nickel from the big banks on Wall Street. And I would have a good guess that they are not going to offer me any because they’re going to figure out who I am really quick if they don’t already know… But that’s the last I want. And you know, before you called, I’m over here opening up letters, and I read every card that somebody sends. We’ve had a lot of people donate… over 10,000 people have donated, and the average contribution is right around 28 dollars. But I read every single card, every letter, every word of support. And the $5 checks are just as meaningful to me, especially coming from somebody that says: “Hey, Randy. You know I’m on a fixed income… I’m a cancer survivor myself… Thank you, keep up the fight, and I’ll send a check for $5.” And that makes me tear up. It means a lot… It gives me a lot of energy and strength.
Morcos: Another thing that I want to discuss is electoral reform. Many feel that the current electoral system is unfair. So would you support a ranked voting system or a proportional voting system for example?
Bryce: I think that that’s a more fair system, but I would love to see ways on how it could be implemented. I’m very much in favor of the fairest system possible, but just looking at how things [have been] for the entire history of the country, aside from like when the Whig party was in place, and other ones come out, it’s been a two party system and everything is setup to run on a two party system.
Morcos: I agree with you that the [current] system.. that’s how it is now. Maine is the only state that established [a ranked voting] system, and it only did so in 2016. So it’s a very new system in the United States. So many progressives want more states, other than Maine, to move towards that system.
Bryce: It’s something I’m definitely interested in because I feel a lot of people feel like their vote doesn’t count. And I’m completely in favor of making sure everybody’s vote does count… that we get more people to the polls and not disenfranchise them by finding ways [to suppress the vote], like sending out cards letting people know that they are being taken off the voter rolls. I mean the stats show hundreds of thousands of people were stripped off the voter rolls in the last election. That’s not right. We need to get more people to the polls, not less people. And anything that supports fair elections, I’m completely in favor of.
Morcos: In an interview with Lawrence O’Donnell of MSNBC, you said that you don’t trust Trump. You actually stated that “we see the top spy of the Russians in the Oval Office.” So could you elaborate more on what you meant by that?
"We see the top spy for the Russians in the Oval Office." pic.twitter.com/GajL9pR73L
— Randy Bryce (@IronStache) June 23, 2017
Bryce: Well, The top spy… Sergei Kislyak was in there with the camera crew. Last I heard, he’s their top guy from Russia. And I don’t see how Trump let this guy into the Oval Office, with a camera crew, without letting an American camera crew in.
Morcos: Are you suggesting that Trump is working directly with Putin against the United States or something along those lines?
Bryce: Well… Honestly, I don’t know. That’s not a big issue for me. I think that’s something more of a distraction, to be honest. I just know that when I served in the Army, I spent three years during the Cold War and we were training to defend the country against the Soviet Union at the time. And now I turn on the TV, and I see the top Russian Diplomat in the Oval Office. I’m like that’s a kick in the shins to me. And all [Trump’s] nice talk about Putin and things like that… He should stop worrying about that, and we should worry about [getting] people back to work, about having people covered by health care, about not having shady things going on, about not firing people when they start investigating him. It’s just… I don’t have trust in our government right now.
Morcos: You are from Wisconsin. It’s part of the Rust Belt which Trump won, overwhelmingly because of the anti-establishment fervor. So what’s your position on trade deals like NAFTA and the Trans-Pacific Partnership?
Bryce: I’m not in favor of any of these trade deals. I mean, Paul Ryan signed on every single trade deal that’s been put in front of him. I’m in favor of doing things that keep American jobs here. You know, we just went to Kenosha, we had an event this past Saturday. I had it at the United Auto Workers hall where most of the people there are now retired because their jobs are all gone. In Janesville, there’s a huge factory that had great paying jobs, supporting a lot of people… the factory is sitting abandoned now, is overgrown with weeds.
Just within the last month, we had an entire GE Factory in Waukesha County, some of the best jobs in that area… the entire factory is moving up to Canada because they’re not doing anything to keep the jobs here. I’m not in favor of free trade; I’m in favor of fair trade.
Morcos: And how would you define “fair trade?”
Bryce: Fair trade would be, where if you would be going to trade with another country, they’re going to treat their workers right. They’re going to pay them livable wages. They’re going to have health insurance. They’re going to be taken care of as good as we are here. But I mean, sad to say, at the rate our country is going, they are going to be treated better than us unless we do something about it.
Climate Change and Fracking
Morcos: Now, I want to also talk about climate change. It’s something that the Republican Party has dismissed altogether. What would be your message to people who agree that climate change is real, but don’t consider it a major issue?
Bryce: Well I would say to look back not too long ago when you couldn’t see the pictures of Los Angeles where it was just covered in smug. But conditions have helped clean the air. We are working on having healthier environments here, on taking care of the land. Sometimes they refer to [environmental bills] as regulations, I prefer to call them protections. If you look at other countries, especially like China, where people have to walk with masks just to breathe… because of the amount of smog there. I mean, we need to look at science. Science can prove what’s taking place.
Morcos: I have seen a tweet where you said that “the real problem with the Keystone pipeline isn’t the pipeline” and I didn’t understand what you were trying to say there. So, what do you think the main issue with the Keystone pipeline is?
Bryce: The real issue is our dependence on oil and fossil fuels. That’s what I see our major problem is. We need to find an alternative source. I don’t believe it’s natural gas. I’ve read about running on vegetable oil, and I don’t think we’re set up for that yet. But I think we need to look to the future and have some kind of sustainable energy that’s going to help us be stewards for our environment.
Morcos: And what would be your position on fracking?
Bryce: I am not a fan of fracking. I watched the Gasland [movie]. And I can’t imagine somebody turning on the faucets and being able to light the water on fire. Something is just basically wrong seeing that. And I find that I am getting a lot of flak because I’m a member of the Building Trades Union.
But I mean, looking now in Wisconsin… I’ve been talking about the issue. It’s an important issue for people that live in areas where there are pipelines. Enbridge off in Canada is running this pipeline down, and if they want to talk about creating jobs, then let’s remove the pipeline that’s not being used that they’re just leaving there. I’m all in favor of companies being responsible for how they do things, not pushing people aside for their own profits. I’m very much in favor of responsible companies and if other companies want to come to the United States, treat us right, be respectful. I have no problem with people making money but don’t use our land as a garbage can. Be responsible, make sure that if you’re going to do something, you’re fully expecting to that if there is some kind of an accident, that you can properly take care of it… which I think is something to be concerned about.
Racial Justice and Black Lives Matter
Morcos: I’d like now to turn to the issue of racial justice. The Black Lives Matter movement has gripped the nation. While your district I believe is 91% white and only 4% are black, what measures would you take to address the issue of police brutality?
Bryce: My father is a retired police officer, and he was an officer that treated everybody with respect. I understand the Black Lives Matter movement. I empathize with it. I’m a firm believer that black lives do matter. And when I am talking about in my video, about making a bigger table, it involves people that we’re not normally used to looking at… seeing people that sit across the table… and it especially involves people that have been outside of where the table is. It’s to welcome everybody inside the table. We need to understand that our greatest strength as a country, as a congressional district, is within our diversity… that we have so many things that make us different, when we put it together, we can’t be divided.
Morcos: Now to turn this into concrete policies or proposals, would you support, for example, decriminalizing, or legalizing marijuana, or other similar measures?
Bryce: Absolutely, I’m in favor of decriminalizing it. I’m so opposed to the prison pipeline… that’s once somebody gets into the system, they can’t get out. I’m in favor of getting rid of the box, to check if you’re a felon. I’ve been an advocate for that. Let people fill out their applications.
For the building trades, for example, our union that I belong to, you fill out [in the application that] you have a high school diploma, your GPA, and [if you have] a driver’s license. We don’t care where you’ve been. We want to help you get to where you want to go. And if you’re not willing to ignore somebody’s past – nobody is perfect – if you’re not willing to forget their past, to give them a job, what do you expect for them to do in order to make a living? The only thing is to help everybody get a good-paying job, to give them training, to give them support and give everybody pride in what they do for a living.
Morcos: You’re a veteran, and you’ve been in the Army. What do you think the United States involvement, for example, in Syria should be… as well as other areas?
Bryce: First of all, we need to scale back our military budget quite a bit. I can’t remember the last time I looked, but look at how much we spend, and look how many countries beneath us combined come up to our total? It’s some crazy number. And if we’re going to blow up other countries, then spend how much money for each bomb, and then we’re spending unbelievable amounts to rebuild their [countries]… Why don’t we invade our own country and take care of our own? Let’s build our own country before blowing someplace else and rebuilding them.
And another thing that really upsets me, being a veteran, it seems like to the Republican Party, we only have value to them when we’re dodging bullets – sent to these battlefields throughout the world, and it’s time that we take care of ourselves when we come back here. Because after you put on that uniform and you [are given] a firearm, there’s no way you’re going to come back the same person you were when you left… when you first enlisted. it’s not just about physical well-being, it’s about mental well-being. We need to take care of our heroes when they come back. And then I think the best thing to do, is to make sure that we only send our heroes when it’s absolutely needed. We’ve been too much on the offense lately and, as you know, it’s called Department of Defense.
Morcos: Okay, so just before I conclude the interview. Is there anything that you’d like to share with our readers… anything that you’d like to let them know about yourself?
Bryce: I would. And it’s not just about me, but about them. I mean if people are reading an article about somebody running for office, I would ask who better to run… who better do you want making decisions for you, than yourself? Think about running for office. Just like I said… I am not running on a message of “I discovered electricity.” [I ran on] a very common, a very basic message. And the reason it blew up as big as it did, is because people see themselves in me. And who better to be you than you? So we need more people like us making decisions for us.
The interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Correction: An earlier version of the article incorrectly referred to a factory in Jamesville, instead of Janesville.