JANESVILLE

Local residents on Thursday night got their first look at the two Democrats who are vying to take on U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan.

“I really can’t say,” said Linda Smith of Janesville when asked who impressed her more—Randy Bryce, the steelworker from Caledonia, or Cathy Myers, the teacher and Janesville School Board member.

Both spoke at a meeting of the Democratic Party of Rock County at the UAW Local 95 Hall. But they spoke separately and did not engage in any back-and-forth.

Both took aim at Ryan, the Republican incumbent, to the delight of many in the crowd of about 50. But they didn’t speak directly about why voters should choose them in the Democratic primary Aug. 14.

Smith said she probably leans slightly toward Myers, “but he did a good job, too,” she said of Bryce. “I just know we need a big change.”

Bryce, who drove to Janesville from a meeting in Milwaukee, arrived late and didn’t hear Myers speak.

After Bryce was done, Myers walked onto the stage and shook Bryce’s hand. The two stood together when people asked them to pose for photos, but there was little interaction.

“I thought I had a clear message and was able to talk more about my electoral experience and give examples of things I’ve done to help people in my community,” Myers said afterward.

Bryce said he has heard Myers speak before, and he thinks what sets him apart are his experiences, including his lifelong residency in the district, serving his country in the Army, and his activism on veterans issues and in the labor movement.

The two answered some of the same questions from the crowd. Myers said she didn’t think Bryce was as clear as he could have been in his responses, and indeed, Myers seemed more polished.

Bryce said at the top of his speech that he doesn’t act or look like a normal politician, because he isn’t one.

He told of being deployed to Honduras, where water was not always available, so he made friends with the man in charge of turning on the water because without it, they couldn’t take showers or have water to drink.

“But that’s the way they live in third-world countries,” he said.

He talked about working with homeless veterans after he got out of the Army.

“Lord knows that Paul Ryan sure doesn’t have veterans as a priority,” he said. “That’s one of the things I’m going to change when I get to Washington, D.C.”

Myers—who grew up in Iowa and teaches in northern Illinois—talked about being raised at the family truck stop, being put to work at age 10 and about going to Westminster College in Missouri as part of the first class there that included women.

“Breaking that glass ceiling was incredibly important to me,” she said.

As a teacher, she was a union president and led a strike in 2003, she said proudly.

Myers said she has been the top vote-getter in two Janesville School Board elections. She said she first ran in 2013 because she saw the administration and teachers not talking to each other in the wake of the Republicans’ Act 10 of 2011, which took power from teachers to bargain for working conditions.

She said she worked to improve relations in the district and to improve wages and benefits for staff.

Bryce has lost three elections, one for state Senate, one for state Assembly and one a Racine School Board primary. He talked of his work in opposing Act 10, as well.

Myers and Bryce both said they support Medicare for all, which would achieve universal health care coverage.

Both pledged to listen to their constituents and castigated Ryan, saying he is not doing that. Bryce said Ryan hasn’t held an open-forum town hall meeting in two years.

Bryce pledged to hold a town hall in every county in the 1st District every year.

Bryce said the minimum wage should be $15 an hour, saying, “There’s no excuse for somebody working full time to be living in poverty.”

Myers was not asked about minimum wage.

Both support immigration reform, with legislation that would allow “Dreamers”—immigrants brought to this country illegally as children—to remain here.

“I really reject this idea by President Trump that immigrants are somehow damaging to this country,” Myers said, adding that Trump is trying to divide people when he should be looking for ways to unite them.

Both support infrastructure spending and prison reform, rejecting privatization of prisons.

Myers supported legalization of marijuana, saying, “It has only been used, I think, to oppress minority communities. I’m that cynical about it.”

Bryce wasn’t asked about marijuana but said people should not be incarcerated for “minor drug offenses.”

Both appeared to support some form of reparations for African-Americans and Native Americans.

Bryce’s campaign reported raising $2.65 million as of Dec. 31, while Myers had raised $265,158.

Myers acknowledged Bryce had a better start, but she said it’s a marathon, and she has been doubling contributions every quarter.

NOTE: This story was modified at 3:01 p.m. Feb. 9, 2018, to reflect that Bryce has lost three elections, including a Racine School Board primary election.

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