Wow factor: News excites Janesville residents

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Frank Schultz
Sunday, August 12, 2012

— What do you call excitement so extreme that you can’t grasp what just happened?

“Wow. It’s very, very exciting. I can’t think of another word,” local businesswoman Jackie Wood said.

“You can just feel it in the air. When I went downtown this morning, I thought I was in a bigger city,” because of all the TV cameras and reporters, Wood said.

The reason, of course, was the revelation that Janesville native Paul Ryan is running for vice president on the Republican ticket.

“Surreal” was the word on the lips of a local Democrat and a local Republican as they grappled with Saturday’s news.

“I’m pretty excited about it,” said Jason Mielke, chairman of the Republican Party of Rock County. “I’m thinking about all the times Paul Ryan was at our events and when I’ve seen him talk, presenting his ideas. … Seeing Janesville, Wis., on all the (TV) news crawls, it was somewhat surreal.”

That feeling may continue in the months ahead as reporters flock to Janesville to find out what Ryan is all about, Mielke suggested.

“It feels surreal, just because they’re right here in our backyard,” said Democratic activist Vivian Creekmore, referring to Ryan and his family.

“I know his wife. I really like her and think she’s a wonderful person,” Creekmore said. “She’s been very kind to me personally and has in fact gone out of her way to do a personal favor for me,” Creekmore said, declining to describe the favor.

But Creekmore thinks Paul Ryan’s ideas for the future of the country are wrongheaded, just as much as Mielke thinks Ryan is perfect for the GOP ticket.

Janesville’s reaction Saturday was a mix of politics, hope, wonder and a sense that things have changed for this city of 60,000.

“I think it’s going to be a pretty interesting couple of months till the election,” Mielke said.

Janesville residents should take a moment to enjoy Ryan’s accomplishment for themselves, Janesville City Manager Eric Levitt said.

“Not very many cities in the country experience a situation where you have a native of the city, who’s still a current resident, running for vice president of the United States,” Levitt said. “It’s an element of pride. It says a lot for the community.”

Cathy Leibfried of Janesville was glad for Janesville but cool to Ryan’s politics.

“It’s very exciting. I’m not going to vote for him because of his stance on women’s issues, but it’s still very exciting,” Leibfried said.

“You do not meet a more honest and good man. … There’s just a genuine niceness about the guy,” said Val Crofts, a friend of Ryan and teacher at Milton High School who thinks Ryan will be a fantastic representative of Republican principles.

Janesville School Board President Bill Sodemann had been hoping Ryan would not get the nod because Ryan is so valuable in the House of Representatives. Now, he thinks Ryan could advance his fiscal ideas even further as vice president.

“If we don’t win the presidency, all of his good ideas won’t go anywhere, anyway,” Sodemann said. “I’m going to miss him as a congressman for sure, but I think it’s a higher calling to bring a national message in this way.”

Sodemann said the spotlight could be good for Janesville, although he worried that “Looney-Tunes” protesters could spoil the city’s image, too.

State Sen. Tim Cullen, a Democrat, was full of compliments for Ryan.

“It’s just enormous for Janesville. It puts us on the map and makes a son of Janesville potentially the vice president of the United States, and vice presidents can help with economic ideas, economic issues,” Cullen said.

Cullen recalled the task force that tried to keep General Motors from closing its Janesville plant. Cullen was co-chairman. Ryan met with GM officials behind the scenes.

“Paul worked extremely hard, as hard as any public official, to get GM to change its mind. But he never tried to take public credit for it,” Cullen said.

The same happened in the early 2000s, when Cullen, as an executive with Blue Cross/Blue Shield, and Ryan worked to get the U.S. government to locate a Medicare call center with 400 jobs in Janesville, Cullen said.

Both efforts failed but not for lack of trying, Cullen said.

Creekmore, the Democrat, said she hopes Ryan’s candidacy won’t be difficult for his family, but she’s ready to fight him politically.

“Obviously we’re just going to fight tooth and nail to re-elect the president and elect Rob Zerban” to the 1st Congressional District seat, Creekmore said. “That’s a huge focus for the Rock County Democrats.

“I think one of the good things coming out of him (Ryan) being on the ticket is that more people in the 1st District will know more about him. One reason he is elected over and over is people like him personally and don’t know enough about his politics.”

Wood, a Republican, has been thinking about history, tourism and Janesville’s new recognition. She saw visitors from Texas taking their photo in front of Ryan’s congressional office Saturday in Olde Towne Mall, which Wood owns.

Wood noted that a bed that Abraham Lincoln slept in is in the Lincoln-Tallman Restorations, just blocks away.

“I thought, if we were smart, we ought to get Paul Ryan’s bed and keep it in storage,” Wood said.

Last updated: 5:11 pm Tuesday, August 27, 2013

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