Meet the populist Wisconsin Democrat looking to dethrone Paul Ryan

Randy Bryce, a Democratic union ironworker who twice ran unsuccessfully for the state Legislature announced Monday, June 19, 2017, that he will challenge Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan for re-election.
Amber Arnold | Wisconsin State Journal | AP
Randy Bryce, a Democratic union ironworker who twice ran unsuccessfully for the state Legislature announced Monday, June 19, 2017, that he will challenge Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan for re-election.

Democrats daydreaming about toppling Speaker Paul Ryan may have found their champion.

Randy Bryce, an ironworker and union organizer, announced his bid for Wisconsin's First Congressional District last week. Bryce's first ad went viral, and he raised more than $100,000 in the very first day of his campaign.

How might Bryce go about trying to defeat the House speaker? In a recent interview with Vox, Bryce hinted at one potential line of attack against the Wisconsin Republican that would connect him to skyrocketing income inequality.

More from Vox:

The Maine event
The Senate is out, but its health care bill is still getting slammed
Donald Trump Jr. is fanning the flames of the #CNNBlackmail story

"If you look at the rich, the CEOs and the ones that own these corporations, they use our infrastructure," Bryce told me in an interview this week. "Working people — it's outrageous for us to pay for the majority of things when we're the ones who are going to build things. ... Without our labor, there is no capital."

Bryce and I talked about single-payer health care, lessons from Georgia's Sixth Congressional District special election, and Black Lives Matter. A transcript of our interview follows.

Jeff Stein

One of the things I saw in the Georgia special election is that Republicans buried Jon Ossoff in an ad blitz connecting him to Nancy Pelosi as one of her "stooges." Would you support her for leader?

Randy Bryce

It's impossible to appreciate enough the historic fact that she's the first woman in that position, that she got a lot of folks together and got stuff done.

But people are looking at the Democratic Party and asking, "Where do we go?" I'm in favor of seeing new faces and ideas that resonate.

Jeff Stein

Do you worry about Pelosi being thrown at you? And how would you address that question if Paul Ryan makes that attack?

Randy Bryce

I'll take help from anybody who gets on board with the messages that I'm putting forward — I'm for working people. I expect a lot of ugliness to come from the other side, and I've faced it being a spokesperson on behalf of working people issues in the state. So my skin has gotten pretty thick.

Jeff Stein

In Georgia, they pummeled Ossoff with this idea that he's "funded by national Democrats," even though they were mostly small-dollar donors. Do you worry about that even though you've seen this increase in small-dollar donors?

Randy Bryce

I'm not taking money from Wall Street or the big banks or the corporations — that's out.

The person I'm running against, Paul Ryan, though he claims not to have time for public town halls in the district, he's had over 50 town halls where people give him $10,000 to have a picture taken with him.

I'm not going to chop off my arm and get into a boxing ring with somebody. What I'm going to do is accept help from causes I already support. I'm not taking money from anyone who is hurting working people. The only time I left this district was when I was in the Army.

Jeff Stein

What do people in your district say about Ryan?

Randy Bryce

That he's not around. He doesn't do anything for us. He doesn't listen to us. The whole thing with health care is that people are just fed up. He says it's a health care bill, but it's not — it's a tax break.

The Senate bill? It's a really cruel thing. It's a really cruel way to deal with people you represent.

I want to say to him, "Let's swap places." I would love to see you walk on a beam a couple hundred feet in the air carrying tools that weigh 150 pounds. Working iron isn't lifting weights in those posing shots with dumbbells. That's not working iron as far as I'm concerned.

Jeff Stein

A lot of people see what's happened recently in Congress as a war between private capital and the superrich and workers in this country. Do you?

Randy Bryce

I look at it like it's wealth redistribution, but the wrong way. Our money is being spent at the top. When you hear "wealth redistribution," it's not from the top coming down to us. We're the ones who make things. Without our labor, there is no capital.

If you look at the rich, the CEOs and the ones that own these corporations, they use our infrastructure. They're the ones whose semis are driving their goods over freeways, who use lots of electricity. It's not unfair to ask for them to pay for their fair share.

Working people — it's outrageous for us to pay for the majority of things when we're the ones who are going to build things. We're not overly profiting from it the way the corporations are.

Jeff Stein

I know you were at a Bernie delegate at the 2016 convention. Would you call yourself a "democratic socialist" like he did? A lot of the things you're saying are compatible with those ideas.

Randy Bryce

The only label I take on is as an advocate for working people. Once you accept a label, you're boxed in. What has socialism brought us? You have parks, the ability to use flush toilets, which are kind of useful. But to say that it couldn't have happened without socialists — who knows? I just know the issues I care about are what people in my neighborhood are worried about.

Jeff Stein

I saw that you've supported Medicare-for-all. One of the lines you hear about that is that single-payer would destroy private insurance and be massively disruptive. Is that a real tradeoff there?

Randy Bryce

I look at it is, if somebody's freezing and they have a thin bed sheet keeping them warm, you don't strip away the bed sheet and wait until they get a blanket that will protect them from the elements. Something has to be in place.

I've already said I would look forward to co-signing the Conyers bill [for single-payer health care].

Jeff Stein

What would you do about all the people who could lose their jobs if the private insurance markets are eliminated?

Randy Bryce

I see opportunities for more jobs as a result of that. I don't see people being — right now, insurance companies are getting rid of jobs and laying off people and someone will have to look at the claims and everything like that. I don't see it as a huge government agency but the bottom line is we have to cover everybody.

Jeff Stein

What do you think of the Black Lives Matter movement? Would you support it?

Randy Bryce

Absolutely, absolutely. I get it. In the building trades in Milwaukee, I've been proactive with a residents' program that puts certain percentages on how many minorities and people who live within the area [have to be hired by the government for programs].

It's something that has to be done: I'm very supportive of the Black Lives Matter movement. Looking at statistics, the prison pipeline, the percentage of black people who are incarcerated? It's crazy. It's like modern day slavery: Once you get in it's really difficult to get out.

Jeff Stein

What do you think the problem with the Democratic Party is? What is its key ailment?

Randy Bryce

I think the single most important thing is to make the majority of Americans who are working people, make sure they're being listened to. In the First District, Paul Ryan is never there. So we have to ask Mark Pocan, from a neighboring district, to tell us what's going on in Washington — and those events are just filled to capacity. I've gotten chairs from the next room to help set up for people.

Money is a big problem in politics, where it's an auction instead of an election. We've just started off, but people like seeing one of their own represent them. I work on a construction site for a living. That's what people have seen in our campaign.