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Standing at a job site in a hard hat, Bryce announced his run for the U.S. House seat that Paul Ryan has held for nearly 20 years. With a distinctive Wisconsin tone, Bryce said: "Let’s trade places. Paul Ryan, you can come work the iron, and I’ll go to D.C."
At least in Democratic circles, Bryce became a sensation. Ten months later, his prospects improved dramatically when Ryan, the Republican speaker of the House, announced he would not seek re-election to his southern Wisconsin seat.
But despite Bryce’s everyman image, which he has continued to cultivate in the campaign, a claim he made on the May 6, 2018, edition of "The Circus," a weekly political program on the Showtime cable network, caught our attention.
It came during this exchange with co-host Mark McKinnon, as Bryce made a reference to President Donald Trump:
Bryce: Last year at this time, I was working on a parking structure, and just talking with the co-workers, just really ticked off at what's going on, and they're like, what are you going to do? And I was like, well, I'll show you.
McKinnon: So you're not a politician?
Bryce: No, and I think that's what people like. But I mean, people voted for Trump because he was seen as a non-establishment type guy.
Nationally, Bryce is a newbie; but this isn’t his first electoral rodeo.
So, let’s check his claim that he is not a politician.
No clear definition
Dictionaries aren’t much help on this claim, given how widely the definitions of politician vary:
A person experienced in the art or science of government; especially one actively engaged in conducting the business of a government.
A person who is active in party politics.
One who engages in a career either in government or in a political party on a full-time, usually professional basis.
A person who campaigns for or holds a position in government.
But the more, and more deeply, involved you become in politics, the closer you are to being a politician -- a label many want to avoid.
"In common current parlance, the word definitely has taken on a pejorative connotation," said Wendy Scattergood, a political science professor at St. Norbert College in DePere, Wis. "People use it as an easy way of calling somebody a bad name."
On his fourth run
For Bryce’s part, his campaign defended Bryce’s claim by saying he has been an ironworker and union member for 20 years.
On one level, it’s easy to argue that the Racine-area resident is not a politician — he has never held public office.
But in the space of just over two years, Bryce ran for three different offices, including two that are partisan:
To Mordecai Lee, a University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee political science professor and former Democratic state lawmaker, Bryce seems more like "a wanna-be politician."
"It’s easier to say who is a politician," Lee said, referring to current elected officials in jobs that pay more or less a full-time salary. "Short of that, it sort of becomes a rhetorical somersault."
But his current campaign means Bryce is now making his fourth run for public office in six years — arguably, enough to make him a perennial candidate. And running for Congress is a much larger venture than school board, or even the statehouse.
"There’s not an obvious point when a person becomes a politician," said Barry Burden, a University of Wisconsin-Madison political scientist, "but Bryce has done enough things that he’s clearly moving toward that category."
Taegan Goddard, publisher of Political Wire, was stronger.
"If you continue to run, you’re spending a decent amount of effort trying to win public office — you’re a politician in that case," he said, adding: "If you’re going to spend that much time running for a congressional seat," he added, "that is a full-time job."
Indeed, for Bryce to flatly reject the label of politician as he did on Showtime, verges on disingenuous. In the eyes of a typical ironworker who has never run for public office, Bryce’s four runs might make him look very much like a politician. And he hasn’t been working the iron during 2018, his campaign told us, as he runs full time for Ryan’s seat.
More Randy Bryce fact-checks:
His campaign staff "first to unionize in the history of politics." Mostly True.
Under his own bill, Trump's family could not have come to U.S. Half True.
Ryan hasn’t held a public town hall in the district in 600 days. Mostly True.
Moreover, Bryce’s campaign says it has raised $5.5 million, while winning endorsements from the likes of a former presidenetial candidate -- U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders -- and national unions such as the United Auto Workers.
That’s high-level stuff, not just a citizen tossing his hat in the ring for a part-time gig on the local school board.
And while Bryce hasn’t won public office or held a government position, he has been active in party politics; he is currently chairman of the veterans caucus of the Wisconsin Democratic Party and first vice chairman of the Racine County Democratic Party.
Bryce says he is not a politician.
The ironworker and candidate for Ryan’s U.S. House seat has not been elected to public office and has not held a government position. And there is no universal definition of politician.
But Bryce, who is active in the Democratic Party, is making his fourth run for public office in the past six years. And his current run is by far the most involved -- as the nearly $5 million he has raised, his national endorsements and leaving his job to campaign full time would attest.
Bryce’s statement has some element of truth but is misleading. We rate it Mostly False.
Showtime, "The Circus," May 6, 2018
Racine Journal Times, "Lemke beats Bryce in Assembly Democratic primary, but turnout low," Aug. 14, 2012
Wisconsin Election Commission, August 2012 election results
Racine Journal Times, "Unified School Board candidates looking for improvements," Feb. 9, 2013
Ballotpedia, 2013 Racine Unified School Board election results
Racine Journal Times, "Wanggaard reclaims Senate seat," Nov. 4, 2014
Wisconsin Election Commission, November 2014 election results
Merriam-Webster, definition of politician
Dictionary.com, definition of politician
Safire’s Political Dictionary, definition of politician
Vocabulary.com, definition of politician
Email, Wendy Scattergood, political science professor at St. Norbert College, May 10, 2018
Interview, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee political science professor and former state lawmaker Mordecai Lee, May 9, 2018
Interview, Political Wire publisher Taegan Goddard, May 9, 2018
Interview, University of Wisconsin-Madison political scientist Barry Burden, May 9, 2018
WisPolitics, Randy Bryce campaign news release, May 14, 2018
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