Eric Prudent knows that as a twenty-four-year-old Democrat running in Wisconsin Assembly District 98, the deck is stacked against him. “How old are you?” is the number one question he is asked out on the campaign trail. Voters have told him to come back when he’s older, he’s been called “The Prom King” and more. But despite all this, and even though he is running in conservative Waukesha County against a Republican incumbent who won’t even respond to his repeated requests to debate, Eric Prudent remains undeterred.
“That’s okay,” Eric Prudent told me over coffee in downtown Waukesha on Sunday. “I don’t mind being underestimated. The less (my opponent) feels he has to work, the better the chance I have.” It’s that positive attitude that keeps Eric going. That, and the fact that he really wants the job and truly enjoys being a candidate.
“Win or lose in November, this is an experience that really makes me want to continue doing this,” said Prudent. “A lot of people want to do something, want to help, want to support what they believe in, but they don’t want to run for public office. That’s something I’ve realized that I want. I want to talk to people, I want to help people, I want to, especially here in Waukesha County, stand up for people that normally don’t get heard.”
While he agreed that ageism “is definitely a minor hurdle to overcome,” he said, “I think that if I talk to someone for more than ten seconds they understand that I am serious about this, that I’m passionate, and that I know what I’m talking about.”
But Prudent’s age has been, at times, a positive. One self-described moderate voter he met said that while he didn’t know who he would vote for, he told Prudent, “It’s so great to see young people like yourself getting involved,” and gave him $35. And as a member of Gen Y, Prudent is comfortable with technology, understands the importance of social media, and uses that knowledge to his advantage.
“The easiest way to get my name out there is social media,” he said. His campaign bought an affordably-priced Facebook ad just last week, and Prudent has already gotten more “likes” than his opponent and has seen an uptick in donations.
Of course, running as a Democrat in Waukesha County presents another giant hurdle. Prudent, himself, is no stranger to Waukesha. “I grew up here, and it is my home,” he told me. He was raised in Waukesha, attended Waukesha North High School, and after getting his BS in Biochemistry at UW-Madison and working at a non-profit, he’s ready to return home full-time.
Prudent is also no stranger to politics. The son of two Progressives, he grew up in a “very political household.” When he was seventeen years old, he began volunteering for Democratic campaigns and other organizations.
Growing up in Waukesha, “I wasn’t shy about letting people know I was a Democrat,” he said. Because he was often “forced to defend” his viewpoints, he said, “I’ve always tried to do research and find out what the opposition was saying. I had to know what I was talking about to survive.”
His upbringing gave him a unique perspective; understanding the viewpoints of others is very important to Prudent. “Being a Democrat in Waukesha I understand that even though I have my views, that I am going to have to be willing to listen and be willing to compromise.”
Prudent cited Paul Farrow’s voting record as a way to draw a clear distinction between himself and his Republican opponent. “Out of 769 votes, on all but one, Farrow voted strictly party lines,” he explained. “It’s not helpful to anyone if you’re not going to think for yourself and vote in the best interest of your district; that’s something I firmly believe in-keeping an open mind, listening to people, and finding common ground.”
What ultimately prompted Eric to actually run for public office was Governor Walker’s dissolution of collective bargaining rights, and the way in which Wisconsinites responded. “Seeing decades of progress become undone in a couple of days” was frustrating, “but seeing people come together like that was inspiring,” he explained. At the same time, Prudent realized that he could not let Republican incumbent Paul Farrow run unopposed.
The issue of education is really important to Eric Prudent. His parents moved to Wisconsin around the time of his birth largely because of Wisconsin’s strong educational system. He doesn’t want to see that eroded. “I’m extremely worried that with all of the cuts statewide to education that the quality of Waukesha and Wisconsin schools will be affected,” he said.
“There are so many things with our state’s current leadership that are ‘right now.’ Walker balanced the budget by pushing back payments, like reciprocity costs. It’s all about ‘right now,’ and it’s not looking at what’s going to happen 3, 4, 5, 10 years down the road at what kind of mess that’s going to leave us in.”
Health care is another issue that Eric Prudent is passionate about. “The notion that people can die of illnesses because they don’t have money is sickening. Knowing that that happens every day in the United State frustrates me.”
Prudent does not believe that empathy and fiscal responsibility are mutually exclusive. “I think that’s a responsibility to have both, and it’s not hard to do that,” he said. “Empathy can be cost-effective.”
For example, he explained, “I don’t think the Affordable Care Act is perfect, but there are so many fantastic things in there that do combine long-term fiscal responsibility with providing health care… Studies have shown time and time again that preventative care reduces costs in the long term,” he explained.
Prudent thinks it’s entirely possible to care about middle-class families and issues such as wasteful government spending. For example, he thinks the Las Vegas Loophole should be closed in order to cut down on corporate welfare. Eric Prudent is also pro-environment, pro-women’s rights, pro-choice, and pro-same sex marriage. He thinks that discriminating against gays and lesbians is “just silly.”
Eric Prudent may not win in November, but political foes who would underestimate him do so at their own peril. This is just the beginning for Mr. Prudent.