Kyle Frenette, the longtime manager of Eau Claire area musician Justin Vernon and his band Bon Iver, formally announced his intention Thursday to run for Congress.
Frenette, 30, of Chetek, plans to run as a Democrat for the 7th District seat held by four-term U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy, R-Wausau. It is Frenette’s first run for elected office.
“I grew up in a time when hard work and helping your neighbors was enough to get ahead and build a good life for you and your family, but that’s not the case anymore,” Frenette said in a statement announcing his campaign. “We need to ensure that every person, young or old — no matter their race, gender or income — is given the same fair shot to succeed. I’m running because we have an opportunity to empower each other to make a real difference for our great state and nation.”
Frenette grew up in Chippewa Falls and founded an independent record label while attending college in St. Paul. After completing a two-year degree in business, he moved back to Wisconsin and began managing Bon Iver, the indie rock bank that toured worldwide and won two Grammy Awards. He also founded Middle West, an independent artist management firm, and was named in 2011 to both Billboard’s and Forbes’ “30 Under 30” lists for influential people in the music industry.
Recognizing that politics has changed since the days when candidates could just make a speech in every town they visited, Frenette said he thought the profile he has established in the music business could help him as a candidate.
“It takes a bit of an established platform to make some noise, as I’ve learned in the music industry,” he said in a telephone interview. “I’ve been blessed to be successful in the music industry, and I thought why not use that platform for good.”
Frenette hopes to motivate millennials and other young voters to take action to improve their world and noted that he has been impressed seeing exactly that from students demanding legislative action in response to last week’s mass shooting at a Florida high school.
“This is our future, and we have to own it,” said Frenette, who is taking a sabbatical from his music ventures as he launches his political career.
Frenette indicated he wants to bring Wisconsin values to Washington, D.C.
“It’s time we choose prosperity for all over the greed of a few,” he said in the statement. “And that starts from the bottom-up — with good jobs, quality education, protecting our environment and a health care system that serves everyone.”
His campaign website — kyleforwisconsin.com — indicates that he would achieve those goals, in part, through support of a gradual increase in the minimum wage to $15 an hour, increased investment in infrastructure, high-speed rail, a single-payer health care program, more emphasis on mental health treatment, public schools over privatized learning, immediate measures to limit the effects of climate change, and moving toward cleaner and more sustainable forms of energy.
Frenette plans to make the case that he will stand with voters of the 7th District rather than following what he characterized as Duffy’s approach of representing wealthy donors.
Democratic state Sen. Patty Schachtner’s upset special election win last month in the 10th Senate District that GOP President Donald Trump carried by 17 percentage points in the 2016 election and other Democratic victories in traditionally Republican districts around the county have shown that people are fed up with the political pendulum swinging further to the right than ever before, Frenette said. He expressed optimism that the tide has turned and momentum will be with progressive candidates in the midterm elections.
“As we have seen in Wisconsin and across the nation, vulnerable right-wing Republicans like Duffy have paid a stiff price for their irresponsible votes to take away health care and reward the wealthiest at the expense of working Americans,” the statement said.
Duffy campaign spokesman Mark Bednar responded Thursday by releasing a statement: “Democrats are in a crowded primary until the end of summer. Meanwhile, Congressman Sean Duffy continues to fight for lower taxes, wage boosts, and greater opportunity for Wisconsinites of all backgrounds.”
Other potential 7th District candidates registered with the state or federal election commissions are Democrats Allen Campos of Sheldon, David Beeksma of Ashland, Margaret Engebretson of Balsam Lake, Brian Ewert of Marshfield, and Ken Driessen of Hayward, who lists his party as direct participatory democracy.
The candidates will square off in an Aug. 14 primary, with the winner taking on Duffy in the Nov. 6 general election.
Frenette’s announcement was accompanied by the release of a campaign video, “A Phone Call to Wisconsin,” in which Frenette talks about his background and his strong attachment for northwestern Wisconsin to scenes of him jogging, hiking, ice fishing, sharing a family dinner and jamming to music with friends.
After describing troubling changes to his native Wisconsin, he declares in the video, “I’ve decided I’m going to run for Congress because there is so much more that can be done with the right leadership.”
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