The 1st Congressional District race is a story about Randy Bryce’s shortcomings as much as Bryan Steil’s qualifications.
With a lengthy arrest record and a history of falling behind on child-support payments, Bryce is in no way congressional material. How Bryce managed to defeat Cathy Myers, a school teacher and Janesville resident, in the Democratic primary would be a mystery except that Bryce benefited from a much larger campaign war chest.
A candidate’s character matters less today than it once did, but Bryce’s personal failings are extraordinary, even by today’s crumbling standards for our nation’s leaders. The problem is not so much Bryce’s past mistakes but that he showed an inability to learn from them. He didn’t rack up merely one OWI in 1998 (plenty of voters can identify with this). He was then picked up three times for driving with a suspended license and was arrested on a warrant for failure to appear.
And lest there be any doubt as to whether Bryce is a “changed man,” the state of Wisconsin placed a lien on Bryce’s property in 2015 for delinquent child-support payments to his ex-wife. Bryce paid off the debt only after announcing his candidacy last year.
His background more closely resembles the kind routinely encountered by probation officers, not 1st Congressional District voters. To attempt to twist his arrest record into a symbol of the everyday working man, as Bryce’s campaign has done, is perhaps one of the most cynical and offensive ploys we’ve ever witnessed.
While we’re not fans of negative campaigning and believe every candidate must make a case for himself, Bryce’s personal failings are too egregious to ignore. The stakes are too high for someone of Bryce’s caliber to slip into office.
As for Steil, he is sometimes derisively described as a clone of House Speaker Paul Ryan, though Steil is no Paul Ryan (and we mean that as a compliment to Ryan). Indeed, it’s an impossible comparison for Steil to live up to, as it took Ryan years to develop into the powerful statesman he’s become.
Steil has a lot to learn, including fleshing out his policy positions. One of our criticisms of his campaign has been its underwhelming message and lack of policy specifics. For all the criticism we’ve leveled against Bryce, his platform (as radical as much of it is) leaves no question on where he stands. We can’t say the same for Steil’s.
But we’re not too concerned about Steil’s future, and we suspect he’ll take a path similar to Sen. Ron Johnson’s. As a businessman without any previous political experience when elected in 2010, Johnson had a large learning curve to overcome. He’s matured as a politician and today exhibits a strong handle on many issues affecting Wisconsin.
We like Steil’s eagerness to tackle the nation’s spending problem and hope he can make progress on one of Ryan’s major goals, entitlement reform. Securing the financial future of both Social Security and Medicare should be a top priority for the next Congress, and Steil has an opportunity to shine on this front.
As Steil learns the job, he’ll likely close the knowledge gap with Ryan. He’ll have to put up with comparisons to Ryan for a while, but we’re confident he’ll leave his own mark on Congress.