While a primary victory by ironworker Randy Bryce won headlines in Wisconsin, a lower-profile race signaled another significant victory for criminal justice reform strategists who have embraced electoral politics as a direct route to change.
In Milwaukee, former MLB security official Earnell Lucas won the Democratic nomination for sheriff, which almost guarantees he will win the general election in November. Lucas, a progressive with the backing of the Working Families Party, defeated Acting Sheriff Richard Schmidt, who had previously worked under Sheriff David Clarke, whose tenure was marked with mistreatment of Milwaukee residents. Schmidt was unable to overcome the association with Clarke, who is better known these days as a Fox News personality.
Schmidt’s loss came just a week after the movement dealt another controversial and high-profile law enforcement official a blow, unseating Bob McCulloch in St. Louis County. McCulloch’s anemic response to the killing of Mike Brown in Ferguson helped spark the Black Lives Matter movement.
Bryce, who captivated a national progressive audience with his working-class background and straight-talking campaign commercials, won the Democratic nomination for Congress in Wisconsin’s 1st Congressional District, defeating opponent Cathy Myers.
Bryce and Myers originally entered the race to challenge House Speaker Paul Ryan, but he announced that he would retire, and therefore vacated the seat. Bryce will face off with Republican Bryan Steil, a former aide to Ryan, in the fall.
In debates, the two Democratic candidates disagreed little on policy and focused on their biographical differences. “I … think we need more moms in Congress,” Myers said to applause during a July debate. She also noted that she’s a teacher, and that she’s “seen the fear” in her students eyes during an active shooter drill, emphasizing her support for gun control.
Bryce, on the other hand, focused on his working-class background. “The average member of Congress is a millionaire. They don’t know what it means to be a working person in Wisconsin. But I do. Because I am,” Bryce said at the same debate.
Throughout the campaign, Bryce portrayed himself as essentially an ordinary guy with ordinary issues. In early July, news broke of Bryan’s history of arrests, including for driving under the influence.
Bryce’s campaign made the historic decision of supporting his campaign’s union drive, becoming the first Democratic congressional campaign in America to become fully unionized. In an interview with The Intercept, Bryce said he would “absolutely” like to see congressional staff, many of whom are notoriously underpaid, also organize.
Also in Wisconsin, Tony Evers won the Democratic nomination for governor. Evers is the Wisconsin state superintendent, serving since 2009. Evers is running on public education, heavily taking aim at incumbent Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s record on schools.
In western Wisconsin, Jeff Smith, a rural populist, defeated Steve Boe, who was backed by much of the Democratic establishment, in a three-way primary for a state Senate seat. Smith, a longtime member of Citizen Action Western Wisconsin, campaigned on restoring local control on a number of issues, establishing a public option, and boosting environmental laws. He will face Republican Mel Pittman in the general election.