Josh Pade of Kenosha is one of three Democrats running for the nomination to take on Rep. Bryan Steil, R-Janesville, for the 1st Congressional District. (Photo courtesy of Josh Pade campaign)
Josh Pade of Kenosha is one of three Democrats running for the nomination to take on Rep. Bryan Steil, R-Janesville, for the 1st Congressional District. (Photo courtesy of Josh Pade campaign)

Josh Pade made a run for governor in 2018. Now he’s running for Congress.

[Editor’s Note – This is the second in a series of stories about candidates for Congress in Wisconsin’s 1st District. Roger Polack was profiled Feb. 10, and Angela Cunningham was profiled Feb. 12.]

It was Aug. 14, 2018, and Josh Pade had logged fewer than 2,000 votes, or 0.35 percent of the total ballots cast, to be Wisconsin’s Democratic gubernatorial nominee. 

In comparison, Tony Evers, who would go on to become governor, got more than 225,000 votes, or more than 41 percent of the votes cast.

Pade’s unsuccessful first run for office is not deterring him from running again.

“I learned that I’d be a better candidate for Congress,” said Pade lightheartedly during an interview recently at The O, a coworking space in downtown Kenosha.

The 39-year-old Kenosha native filed last August to run against freshman Rep. Bryan Steil, R-Janesville, Paul Ryan’s handpicked successor to his Congressional seat. Pade is one of three Democrats hoping to take back the state’s 1st Congressional District, which Republicans have held for 25 years.

“The challenges we face today need more than just someone who can be really good at toeing the party line, giving those talking points, checking the box for Republican or Democratic issues,” he said.

Pade’s progressive roots run deep. 

His family has been in the Kenosha area since the 1830s. His grandfather was involved in the labor movement. He has political experience working as an intern in California Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s and former Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold’s offices.

“I grew up in a very good tradition,” Pade said. “I was putting out yard signs for Russ Feingold when I was 12 years old.”

When Pade was 14, his father died of a heart attack. The family lost health insurance and Social Security ran out when his little sister turned 16. It was at this time, Pade said, that he began to understand how government and policy have a very real impact on people’s lives. His campaign website is almost entirely dedicated to health care.

“I learned firsthand that all those things that my grandparents talked about, how they built the middle class, all that is very real,” he said.

At 19, Pade started working in management at a grocery store in Onalaska in an effort to provide for his family. He stayed with the store until his siblings were older and then worked his way through college. He eventually earned a law degree from Suffolk University in Boston. 

He moved to New York and worked in risk management for the retail company, J. Crew, before returning to Kenosha County in 2018. He now lives with his wife in the western Kenosha County village of Bristol.

Having been through law school, Pade is no stranger to student loan debt. He said making public two-year community colleges free — something former President Barack Obama proposed in 2015 — is “something that we could achieve right away.” 

In the long term, he said he would like to make sure college is affordable by expanding student aid, tax credits and grants, and expanding and reforming the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program.

The program allows students to have their loans paid off after making 10 years of loan payments while working in qualified public-service sectors such as public education or law enforcement. 

Congress allocated $700 million to the program, but the U.S. Department of Education rejected 99 percent of applications from 2018 to 2019.

“I believe if we do that we will give an opportunity for people to give back to their communities, to learn new skills and then get an education,” Pade said. “The current Public Service Loan Forgiveness system doesn’t work. It’s broken.”

In an Aug. 2019 interview with the Cap Times, Pade said he supported a “strong public option” for health care while keeping the private insurance industry. Speaking with UpNorthNews, he spoke of the need to have “universal coverage where cost isn’t an inhibitor.” He says he would support allowing patients to stick with their current doctors while reducing administrative costs and prescription drug prices.

“Things don’t always turn out the way you think they’re going to when a law is passed,” he said. “Trying to force one specific policy proposal when we can solve these things through a number of different means is shortsighted.” However, he said, a “strong public option is the preferred next step in health care reform.”

Racine native Roger Polack, a former intelligence office, and Angela Cunningham, a Kenosha defense attorney, are the other Democratic candidates.

The 1st Congressional District includes all of Racine and Kenosha counties, most of Walworth County and parts of Rock, Waukesha and Milwaukee counties. The three largest cities are Racine, Kenosha and Janesville. The primary is Aug. 11.

[Editor’s Note: This article has been edited to add Pade’s reaffirmation of support for a public option as his preferred path to health care reform.]