EAU CLAIRE — As a 24-year-old who has never run for public office or even been a member of a political party, Justin Bonner knows he faces an uphill battle in challenging 12-term congressman Ron Kind.
Yet Bonner, a software engineer from Eau Claire, is looking forward to taking on Kind, D-La Crosse, in the 3rd Congressional District Democratic primary next year.
In mounting a challenge from the left, Bonner said he is eager to push many of the progressive policies advocated by Democratic presidential candidate and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who outpolled Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential primary in 71 of 72 Wisconsin counties.
“If Bernie Sanders is going to be president, he’s going to need some help getting things done,” said Bonner, who grew up in Virginia and moved to Eau Claire for an internship with Applied Data Consultants while attending Purdue University. “I agree with Bernie on almost everything.”
Among the policy initiatives Bonner advocates are Medicare for all, free public education through college and beyond, a Green New Deal, ranked-choice voting, getting money out of politics and abolishing several federal agencies: Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the National Security Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency.
“I do think ideologically we are best served by that kind of progressive agenda,” he said. “It’s definitely not going to be easy, but I think a lot of people are really interested in these ideas.”
Told he was on a national list of “revolutionary progressive candidates,” Bonner responded, “I’d say that’s a pretty good label.”
Regarding Medicare for all, he said, “We have thousands of people that die in this country every year because they can’t afford their medications, and I don’t think that’s acceptable.”
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He called it “insane” that Americans who get sick or injured are charged large fees for medical care. Instead, he said, everyone should pay for a national health care system in their taxes, spreading the cost among all residents.
The way to break the stranglehold on power by the Democratic and Republican parties, Bonner maintained, is to enact ranked-choice voting, a system that eliminates the spoiler effect from third-party candidates by allowing voters to rank their choices on a ballot from first to last.
Bonner said extending free education beyond high school is a key to maximizing the value every individual can produce through their work.
“Extending that free public education through college alone is too moderate for me,” he said. “We need free public education at all levels through college, including getting a PhD and medical school.”
Bonner called Kind too moderate to support many of the policies included in Sanders’ agenda.
In response to the primary challenge, Kind’s campaign issued the following statement: “The Congressman is focused on doing his job in Congress and working to lower health care costs for Wisconsinites, ending the President’s reckless trade war, and keeping family dairy farms afloat.”
Though Bonner acknowledged he has never been a card-carrying member of the Democratic Party, he said running as a Democrat presented the best opportunity to enact change because of the smaller number of votes needed to win a primary and the way the two-party system stacks the deck against independents and third-party candidates.
He described his policies as lining up with the left wing of the Democratic Party but being completely different from than the stands espoused by most Republicans.
“I would rather lose telling the truth about what I believe rather than win by telling people what I think they want to hear,” he said.