After news broke that House Speaker Paul Ryan is not seeking re-election and will retire from Congress after this year, voters and members of Wisconsin’s 1st Congressional District are wondering what happens next.
“This morning Speaker Ryan shared with his colleagues that this will be his last year as a member of the House,” Ryan aide Brendan Buck said in a statement. “He will serve out his full term, run through the tape, and then retire in January. After nearly twenty years in the House, the speaker is proud of all that has been accomplished and is ready to devote more of his time to being a husband and a father.”
So what does this mean for his district? With Ryan’s retirement, analysts agree that the Democrats’ chances of flipping the seat would increase dramatically, giving his opponents a much better chance to win.
Randy Bryce, otherwise known as the “Iron Stache,” has long been a major player in the race to unseat Ryan, and with the news of Ryan’s retirement his chances, as well as those of the other candidates, may have just skyrocketed. So who is the man behind the Iron Stache?
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Bryce Exploded onto National Scene with a Viral Campaign Video Last June
Bryce’s campaign has centered heavily on painting himself to be a working class man – a union leader for seven years, an ironworker for 20, a single dad and an army veteran. His campaign announcement video portrays Bryce in the same light; Bryce, wearing a hard hat, tells Paul Ryan, “Let’s trade places…You can come work the iron, and I’ll go to DC.”
Bryce was quickly thrown into the national spotlight and rose to a sort of political fame after his campaign released the video in June, 2017. Bryce gained a tremendous amount of national popularity ranging from every day, working-class folks like himself, to high-profile politicians like Bernie Sanders.
Bryce’s campaign video focused heavily on the importance of healthcare. The video featured an emotional scene with his mother talking about her painful condition and the 20 medications she takes that would cost thousands of dollars without insurance.
“It’s a very painful condition,” his mother says in the video. “It’s like hot knives going through, and you can’t talk, you can’t swallow. It’s terrible.”
The video resonated with viewers and quickly went viral, amplifying Bryce’s voice and his working class image and propelling him into the spotlight.
2. Bryce is a Cancer Survivor, Single Dad and Union Activist, Serving Ironworkers Local 8
Randy was raised in southeastern Wisconsin, and went to public schools. After graduation, he enlisted in the U.S. Army, retired a few years later and found his calling as an ironworker. Randy’s father was a police officer, and his mother worked in a doctor’s office.
He represented the union Ironworkers Local 8 for nine years as a volunteer political coordinator, is president of the Wisconsin Veterans Chamber of Commerce board of directors, chair of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin Veterans Caucus and, until recently, served on the Milwaukee Area Labor Council board of directors.
Bryce was diagnosed with testicular cancer a few years after leaving the army, and with no insurance and no idea how to pay for his medical treatment, his doctor referred him to Froedtert Hospital and the Medical College of Wisconsin. Bryce received free treatment at Froedtert after agreeing to be a “guinea pig” as part of the teaching process for medical students attending the college.
Bryce eventually recovered but was told that it was unlikely he was ever going to be able to have children. However, he proved his doctor wrong when he met his ex-wife Faye Boudreaux and they had their “miracle baby” Ben.
“He’s an anchor, just such an anchor,” Bryce says about Ben. “He brings me down to Earth. It’s like he just doesn’t care … as long as we still get to do father-son stuff together. I have him every other weekend, so we have a movie night, watch a movie and make a pizza or something. For him, he just wants his dad.”
His son is now 11 and has “seen more picket lines than most people in Wisconsin,” according to Bryce.
3. Bryce Attributes His Campaign as a Driving Factor Behind Ryan’s Retirement
Long before the news broke that Ryan was officially retiring, Bryce felt like his campaign was primarily responsible for forcing Ryan to even consider retirement.
“It will still be a good thing that we were able to pressure him into finding a new line of work,” Bryce said back in January. “The bottom line is about getting working-people values into Washington DC and to make decisions on behalf of other working people.”
According to Bryce, he had been talking with his campaign organizers early on in the race, and considered the option that Ryan might find a reason to back out of the race if they put enough pressure on him.
“We had talked about it before we first started too, like if we really get this thing rolling he might just bail,” said Bryce. “He looks miserable, and I’m happy to have something to do with that.”
Bryce claims that Ryan doesn’t care about the people in the district and that what he’s doing isn’t on behalf of the people in Wisconsin, it’s “for people with a lot of money who are going to benefit from what he’s putting forward.”
4. Bryce is a Staunch Activist and DACA Supporter, and Recently Made History by Unionizing his Campaign
Bryce became much more politically involved after Walker was elected in 2010. He helped organize one of the first protests in Wisconsin after Walker announced his controversial Act 10 bill, which significantly affected the collective bargaining, compensation, retirement, health insurance, and sick leave of public sector employees and union members.
He says that there were a plethora of reasons he started getting more involved, but Walker’s election and seeing how his administration and “extreme Republican leadership” has changed Wisconsin that really pushed him into action.
Bryce is known for his unwavering support of DACA rights and labor unions in Wisconsin. Bryce’s biological paternal grandparents are Mexican immigrants and he claims that his Mexican heritage helped him forge a strong bond with the immigrant community. He was recently voluntarily arrested at a Dream Act protest in Racine along with his Democratic opponent Cathy Myers.
Bryce is also having an impact on progressive politics. Bryce recently unionized his campaign, becoming the first congressional candidate in history to do so and opening the door for other campaign organizations to follow suit.
With the groundbreaking contract, the eight members of Bryce’s campaign staff will receive a one percent raise, reimbursements for health insurance premiums and a formal grievance process and reporting system for sexual harassment which has resonated with the union’s female members.
“Union parties provide protection against sexual harassment, and I was really proud that it was included in Randy’s campaign union as well,” said Lauren Hitt, press secretary for the Bryce campaign and former communications director for Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney. “I think it would be a really powerful message. I hope it affects other campaigns and becomes the new norm in Democratic campaigns.”
5. Despite Political Fame, Bryce has a History of Controversial Tweets and a Losing Streak of Elections
Bryce is no stranger to social media controversy. He has been in hot water for a plethora of tweets over the years, including one Twitter post accusing Ivanka Trump of having an affair with Justin Trudeau, and another calling Ivanka Trump a “succubus.”
He has been called sexist for a number of tweets he has posted over the years, including referring to the “rape” of Wisconsin when talking about union issues and calling out former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin’s eldest daughter Bristol Palin, suggesting she sell condoms instead of pushing for abstinence-only education.
Bryce has also come under fire for calling the speaker’s office the “biggest shit hole in DC,” for falling behind on his child support payments, and for a previous loan that Bryce didn’t pay back until two months after he announced his candidacy.
Bryce also has a history of failed campaign runs. In 2012, he lost a Democratic primary for state assembly. Two years later, in 2014, Bryce was defeated in the general election for state senate. In 2013 he lost a 10-way primary for Racine County Board of Education.