TRAVERSE CITY — About 70 people packed into a small room, shoulder-to-shoulder to catch a glimpse of House Speaker Paul Ryan as he endorsed Republican congressional candidate Jack Bergman.
“We are on the other side of Lake Michigan — you guys get the cool, sandy beaches, we get the rocky bluffs — but we share the same values,” said Ryan, a Wisconsin republican, to the crowded room. “We want men and women to come to congress to fight for us, to fight for what we believe in. That is why we are so excited about having Jack Bergman come to congress.”
Those local Republican party members and elected officials jammed into the Grand Traverse County Republican Party headquarters on 14th Street at about 11 a.m. Tuesday to hear Ryan encourage voters to make Bergman, a retired U.S. Marine Corps lieutenant general, the next congressman to represent Michigan’s First Congressional District.
“I’m kind of honored he would show up in Traverse City,” said Grand Traverse County Clerk Bonnie Scheele prior to Ryan’s speech. “I never heard him speak in the past, so I’m excited to hear what he has to say.”
Ryan boasted his home-state Wisconsin Badgers and Green Bay Packers recent success against Michigan teams before a six minute speech outlining why he feels Bergman should be elected to replace retiring Rep. Dan Benishek.
Bergman thanked Ryan for making the trip to northern Michigan and spoke briefly on issues he said his campaign concentrates on, including national security, the economy and Social Security.
“It is critically important that we elect a congressman who is able to work with our leaders in Washington D.C. to help people of the First Congressional District,” Bergman said. “I will work with anyone of any party to do the right thing for our district and our country.”
A representative who can work on state and national issues like poverty and the welfare system, security, and even regulations affecting Michigan cherry farmers and other growers around the country, remains a high priority for congress, Ryan said.
Lon Johnson, a democratic opponent in the congressional race, challenged Bergman’s and Paul’s views on several state issues.
“Speaker Ryan sees Jack Bergman as an ally in a scheme to privatize Social Security and push through a trade deal that will push our jobs overseas,” Johnson said. “I believe that we deserve a member of congress that will fight to protect what we fought a lifetime to earn.”
Beth Friend, East Bay Township trustee and supervisor candidate, appreciated Ryan’s concerns on issues that could impact local farmers.
“He spoke about agriculture and regulations and those impact our state greatly," she said. "Anything they can do to lessen some budgetary regulations helps our business and economy.”
Grand Traverse County Republican Party Chairman John Roth expects the race between Bergman, Johnson, Libertarian candidate Diane Bostow, and Green Party candidate Ellis Boal will be tight, increasing the importance of Ryan’s stop.
“We have no doubt it’s going to be a tough race,” Roth said. “But having Paul Ryan here shows he is with us in trying to get Gen. Bergman elected.”
State Sen. Wayne Schmidt stood behind Ryan with state Rep. Larry Inman and former state Sen. George McManus during his speech.
Ryan’s visit on Bergman’s behalf was an important stop for the candidate and the region’s residents, Schmidt said.
“Anytime we get attention up here, republican or democrat, that’s a good mark for northern Michigan,” he said.
Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct the description of Democrat Lon Johnson's candidacy. — Oct. 4, 2016