‘Shooting for the Stars’ – Bon Iver Manager Aims High With Congressional Bid

Tom Giffey

Kyle Frenette
Kyle Frenette

What does managing a world-touring, Grammy-winning rock band have in common with running for Congress? More than you might think, says Kyle Frenette, who has done both.

While his congressional bid only began on Thursday, Frenette has managed Justin Vernon’s band Bon Iver for more than a decade, making a name for himself in the music industry at a young age and establishing his own management firm, Middle West. Now, at age 30, he’s a newly minted Democratic candidate in Wisconsin’s 7th Congressional District, which is currently represented by Republican Sean Duffy.

“Setting up a political campaign is pretty similar to setting up an album campaign,” Frenette said in a telephone interview. “You’re promoting a message. You’re putting yourself out there while doing your best to maintain integrity and promote a specific vision, make a statement.”

In this case, of course, the statement is political, not artistic. While the Chippewa Falls native has always been interested in politics, he says he was galvanized by the 2016 election to become active. He moved back to the 7th Congressional District – he now lives outside Chetek – and began planning a bid for office. Networking skills honed in years in the music business have been helpful, Frenette says. And, he adds, the leadership skills he has exercised guiding the meteoric success of Bon Iver and creating his own business will come into play if he is elected in November.

First he needs to win the Aug. 14 Democratic primary, which will include at least five candidates from the sprawling district, which covers a huge part of northern and central Wisconsin, from Hudson east to Wausau and north to Superior. If he’s successful in the primary, he’ll have to win a Nov. 6 general election against Duffy, a four-term Republican incumbent with his own show-business bona fides: He was a cast member of MTV’s "The Real World" – on top of being a competitive lumberjack and a district attorney.

Frenette describes himself as a political progressive who is aiming for a “bottom-up approach” to politics. He says his campaign will be based upon creating better jobs, universal health care, education, and environmental protection.

“I think what we’re seeing in this country as a result of the last election is a moment not only to hold politicians like Donald Trump and Sean Duffy accountable to their vice-grip policies, policies that represent the few and the special interests, but also to elect candidates that can uphold progressive and bold change to point this country back in a direction that is a bit more favorable to all people,” Frenette says. “There’s a real moment here in 2018, and I saw an opportunity to step up and use my platform. I’m shooting for the stars for this, but that is my nature.”

Frenette has a challenge ahead of him. While the 7th Congressional District was represented by Democrat David Obey for 42 years, after than 2010 census the district’s boundaries were redrawn, making it heavily Republican. (Duffy was re-elected in 2016 with 62 percent of the vote, and Trump won the district by a 20-point margin over Hillary Clinton.) However, Frenette sees positive signs in the results of elections in Virginia, Alabama, and even Wisconsin’s 10th State Senate District, where previously Republican seats have shifted to Democrats. After the nation’s political pendulum swung rightward in 2016, some of those who elected Republicans are now choosing differently, he says.

“I have the opportunity to use my platform to spread good. that’s what I’ve always been about. That’s what Justin (Vernon) has always been about – giving back to the place that raised us: northwestern Wisconsin, and Wisconsin as a whole,” Frenette says. “And two, I represent this country’s new generation. A generation that sees that our politicians have been bought and sold for too long.”

Now that he’s officially a candidate, Frenette is is planning a listening tour of all of the district’s 26 counties. He’s optimistic about the reception he’s received so far as a candidate. “I’m waiting for the negative things to be written, and that’s sure to come, but so far it’s been positive and reassuring for me in making this decision and flipping my life upside down in order to do this,” he says.

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