Money in politics. Some say it’s inevitable. If you want to win, you have to play the game. In Wisconsin’s first district, Paul Ryan is very good at this game, amassing huge amounts of money and winning elections.
The Democrats – working through Randy Bryce – are doing their best to compete with the Republicans in the big money game while also tapping into a grassroots base at the national level through Bryce’s early national exposure. To his credit, Bryce denounced money in politics and agreed it’s a big issue when interviewed by Salam Marcos of Progressive Army:
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.
But Bryce would be an even more impressive candidate if his actions matched his words. A transformative platform is one thing, a transformative campaign is another. Bryce’s campaign provides proof that big money in politics can come in forms other than Wall Street donations and still render the election unfair. For example, even though Bryce has raised the lion’s share of his campaign money from small donors, wealthy connections have still influenced the rise of his national profile and blacked out his primary opponent, Cathy Myers, almost a year out from the election.
Endorsements: Big Exposure, Big Money
Nikkita Oliver, in her recent op-ed published in Crosscut succinctly outlines many issues with endorsements, including money:
Endorsements are nepotistic. Failing to acknowledge this is to preserve an inequitable system. Many candidates are groomed by communities with substantial social capital and moneyed resources. This is intentional. People like to keep their money in the family. If you are not in the family or at least a relative of sorts, you likely will not get the endorsement of big endorsers (unions, papers, corporations) or political elites.
Endorsements are about money. Big money endorsements put big money into making sure their candidates are visible. Visibility and the right — hollow — campaign promises go a long way toward election. So, if you cannot get the big endorsements, even if you are the best candidate, you likely will not win the race because you will struggle to be visible.
It’s been quite remarkable how quickly Randy Bryce has collected how many endorsements:
— Andre (@SubvertingPower) September 12, 2017
— VoteVets (@votevets) June 27, 2017
— John Nichols (@NicholsUprising) July 20, 2017
— NARAL (@NARAL) August 2, 2017
Myers’s campaign has told the Progressive Army that she did not receive an opportunity to interview with any of the organizations listed above.
What’s progressive about an exclusionary endorsement process? What’s progressive about bragging about such endorsements?
One particular, and peculiar, note is NARAL’s recent endorsement of Bryce. NARAL has previously made its position on laws that require parental notice and parental consent before a minor can seek abortion services very clear: “mandatory parental-involvement laws threaten young women’s safety.“ However, until July of this year, Bryce didn’t agree with NARAL on young women’s right to choose and felt that young women should have to seek permission from a parent before undergoing abortion services.
This is no small issue; Wisconsin currently requires a young woman to get permission from at least one adult relative, and this has been shown to endanger the lives of young women. Alternatively, Myers has been a Pro-Women’s Rights advocate since she was in high school and does not agree with restrictions to these Rights.
— Cathy Myers (@CathyMyersWI) September 14, 2017
So why did NARAL choose to support the Bryce, with shifting positions on abortion, over Myers, who has always been for a woman’s right to choose?
It’s very likely that NARAL’s support for Bryce is the result of a combination of cronyism, corporate interest, and self-interest. Bryce has been working on pipelines for 20 years and his political consulting firm, Nation Consulting, represents pipeline construction companies Global Pipeline Partners and Michels, which build Enbridge pipelines. Sachin Chheda, who is both a partner at Nation Consulting and working on the Bryce campaign, just completed two terms as Chair of the Board of Directors for NARAL Pro-Choice America. It seems evident that NARAL’s support is not rooted in backing the stronger candidate for women’s rights, it’s in choosing a candidate who will pursue policies that fatten Nation Consulting’s bottom line.
Without a doubt, recent campaign history has shown that the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) will not throw support or money behind Progressive candidates in any district. Therefore, progressive candidates often rely on out-of-state funding and big endorsements to fuel their campaigns. But big donors from outside of these districts often don’t carefully consider the concerns of those living in the districts.
For example, those throwing their support and money to Bryce may be unaware that there is growing resistance to both the expansion of the Enbridge pipeline and to the Great Lake Basin railway project, which will transport tar sands oil and will run through WI-01. Unfortunately, the landowners who will be most affected by the existing Enbridge easement have tried and failed on multiple occasions to get Bryce on the record opposing the new pipeline. Enbridge is responsible for the largest inland oil spill in American history and Bryce’s association with Nation Consulting and Enbridge has many Wisconsin locals feeling uneasy.
So, while the policy prescriptions of the two candidates mirror each other in many ways, there are a couple of differences worth mentioning. First, Myers is an environmentalist, she has come out forcefully against the pipeline, and has garnered the support of landowners impacted by the pipeline. Second, while Bryce has failed to disclose whether he supports the legalization of small amounts of marijuana by individuals, Myers supports “the full legalization of marijuana. Period” and considers it the “Civil Rights issue of our time.”
Many progressives agree. Ending the war on marijuana, and the racially biased policing, arrests, and sentencing that it has produced, should be at the top of any progressive’s platform. For many this is not simply a side issue, it isn’t the cherry on top, it is fundamental to phasing out this country’s staggering issues with mass incarceration, for-profit prisons, a bail system that keeps the poor locked in prison cells – sometimes for years – and the for-profit fine and probation system that has been instituted around the country which keeps the poor locked in a never-ending cycle of payments, warrants, and re-arrests.
We have a bloated and fatally broken criminal justice system that wastes billions of taxpayers dollars and then seeks to feed itself off the lives of the poor and addicted. It must end, and that begins with ending the war on drugs.
Myers and Bryce also part ways on the use of local law enforcement to enforce federal immigration laws. Myers and other local Democratic Party officials oppose the use of local law enforcement for federal immigration laws, while Bryce supports it.
To Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients and other immigrants living in the U.S., the ongoing threat of Trump’s administration and a GOP majority make Bryce’s position untenable.
While the Immigration and Nationality Act already allows the federal government to deputize local law enforcement officials to enforce immigration law through 287(g) agreements, most state and local police agencies have never been in the business of deportation. Perhaps in the era of Trump, Sheriff Joe Arpaio should be considered a cautionary tale on this matter.
Simply put, police departments should not be in the business of racial profiling for any reason. In fact, in 2010 a Department of Homeland Security investigation found that “Claims of civil rights violations have surfaced in connection with several [law enforcement agencies] participating in the program.” Arpaio’s conviction on criminal contempt of court charges after disobeying a court order to stop violating the civil rights of individuals detained as suspected undocumented immigrants without legal basis, and Trump’s subsequent decision to ignore these civil rights violations and pardon Joe Arpaio, should be extremely disconcerting to even the most centrist Democrat.
So here we are, two progressive Democratic candidates trying to unseat one of the most deeply entrenched and powerful Republican Congressmen in office. Certainly, either one of these candidates would be a marked improvement for the State of Wisconsin and would contribute to building a stronger, more representationally progressive coalition in Congress. However, while Bryce is being pushed out in front, Myers is being silenced.
Campaigning Against Paul Ryan
Make no mistake, being the resistance candidate and taking on Paul Ryan is a lucrative endeavor. Before dropping out, David Yankovich moved from out of state to be a candidate in Wisconsin’s first district. His campaign mantra was very much of the same vein as Bryce: “David Yankovich is a regular guy. He’s not rich. He’s not famous. He’s not a politician. He just recently moved to Wisconsin.”
Randy Bryce is simply a better representative of this regular guy mold, and even though he’s in a primary, you wouldn’t know it by the way he campaigns or how he’s covered by the media.
— Randy Bryce (@IronStache) September 14, 2017
Very seldom does Bryce talk about his primary election. Instead, his ads and interviews suggest he’s already running against Paul Ryan in 2018. This framing is a bit misleading but makes it easier to contrast his positions and raise money.
Bryce Won’t Debate His Primary Opponent
In a campaign press release, Myers called out Bryce for sidestepping a debate or public forum thus far:
The real concerns of our neighbors deserve real discussion, so I am calling on Speaker Ryan and Randy Bryce to take a break from the national press circuit and come back home to discuss local issues. It is in our best interest as candidates and in the best interest of Democrats in the district to have a robust primary debate so we are prepared to challenge the most powerful career politician in Washington. We already have a Representative concerned with fundraising from monied elites coast to coast – what folks need is someone who actually listens and who actually shows up right here in the First District.
We agree. We also agree that voters should have the opportunity to hear from all of the candidates in the race. Without this, voters are being kept in the dark about issues and points of disagreement among candidates that may be quite significant to them. Plenty of progressives complained about Hillary Clinton dodging press conferences, rallies, and debates in 2016. Why the silence now?
— Cathy Myers (@CathyMyersWI) July 9, 2017
The interview above is the only time we have seen Bryce asked to differentiate himself from Myers. Bryce stumbles, stating that he is “a working guy, that packs a lunch.” This might work if Paul Ryan was Bryce’s primary opponent, but he isn’t. Myers is a teacher who has held many leadership positions within her union, and has already won two elections in Paul Ryan’s district. It could be that Bryce is avoiding debate because, apart from a rather slick campaign, his experience and background are no match for Myers and he fears he could very well be put in his place. Or, he fears he will be challenged to answer uncomfortable questions that he would prefer not to.
For all progressives’ talk of loathing “coronations” during the 2016 primary, many seem quite content to coronate Bryce the Democratic candidate for Wisconsin’s 1st Congressional district, without ever considering or knowing of the grassroots candidate in the race. If there were no readily identifiable differences between the two candidates, perhaps this would not be such a big deal. But there are clear differences, and they are not insignificant.
Apart from all these issues, it is also our belief that Bryce is unwilling to debate Myers because that would mean he’d have to share the spotlight, which means he’d have to share the exposure and a significant share of campaign contributions.
We’re simply calling on Bryce to do what’s right for the voters of Wisconsin, and that requires voters be made aware of their options. Refusing a debate with his primary challenger robs them of this opportunity, and robs them of their right to make an informed decision about their own future and the future of their families. In the end, this isn’t about Randy Bryce, it’s about putting the best candidate in office so this country can move forward.