People in Janesville had mixed reactions Wednesday morning to the news House Speaker Paul Ryan will not seek re-election this fall.
Some said they were surprised.
Others said they didn’t blame him.
A couple were glad to see him go.
And some declined to comment, saying they had no opinion on Ryan or didn’t closely follow politics.
Ryan’s announcement sent shockwaves through the political realm and confirmed months of speculation that Ryan was considering leaving public office.
A television inside Citrus Café near downtown Janesville showed the CNN coverage of Ryan’s morning press conference as customers flocked to the diner for breakfast. While many had differing opinions, most local residents said Ryan was a man of good character and credited him for making a decision that would allow him to spend more time with his family.
“We know he’s a family man and anxious to be back home here,” said Mary O’Regan of Janesville. “We saw him in the last week or two going to Noodles with his caravan of cars. He’s in town a lot. We’re glad to have him coming back home.”
O’Regan said she supported Ryan as a person and on some legislative issues, but she said the sweeping tax reform package passed in December hurt her family and will do long-term damage to the national deficit.
Not everyone had such warm feelings for Ryan.
At the Janesville post office, Debra Puerner said Ryan has failed to do much for the Janesville community.
“I’m glad that he’s gone,” she said. “He’s bailing because he knows he made wrong choices and wrong decisions.
“I think he should make a lot of apologies,” Puerner said.
O’Regan said she would not have voted for Ryan in fall. Democratic candidate Randy Bryce might earn her vote, but O’Regan questioned whether he has the political background to hold the office.
None of the people interviewed by The Gazette said they had another candidate in mind.
Bryce has received national attention and plenty of outside financial contributions. He faces Janesville School Board member Cathy Myers in the Democratic primary for the 1st Congressional District seat.
On the Republican side, only Nick Polce from Lake Geneva and Paul Nehlen from Delavan have announced their candidacies. Nehlen lost handily to Ryan in the 2016 GOP primary, and he was suspended from Twitter earlier this year for racist and anti-Semitic posts.
Other Republicans, including state Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, could jump into the race.
Gerald Kotche of Janesville identified himself as a Democrat and union backer but said the party hasn’t shown him a candidate worth supporting. While he disagreed with Ryan’s political views, he was more frustrated by gridlock in Washington.
Like many others who spoke to The Gazette, Kotche said Ryan was a “good person,” but he said Donald Trump’s presidency has altered his view of the speaker.
“Until this election, I thought he was doing all right. When this turned about and all of a sudden he is agreeing with a man that I think is crazy (Trump),” Kotche said. “But he still ended up not getting nothing done.”
Rick Anschuetz lives in Fort Atkinson, just outside the 1st Congressional District. He thought Ryan has done an admirable job navigating national politics.
“In Washington, he’s managed to keep his ethics at a high level. He hasn’t been in any controversies as far as I know. That’s a real job working in Washington if you can do that,” Anschuetz said. “Like I said, I like where he comes from ethically and morally, so that’s why I’m a little disappointed.”
But Mary Burris of Janesville believes the volatility of Trump’s presidency pushed Ryan out of politics. Ryan would have accomplished more in Congress if he had a more supportive president, she said.
Wednesday’s news “shocked” her, and she said Ryan has done plenty of good for the 1st District and the country as a whole. Now, she will have to find an alternative candidate to vote for in November, she said.
Others The Gazette spoke to didn’t buy Ryan wanting to be home with his kids as the full reason for retiring, believing it’s Trump that prompted Ryan’s decision.
“I think it’s a cover story for whatever the real reason is,” said Tom Brunette while eating breakfast at Kealy’s Kafe. “I think there’s more to it.”
Fred Goodsir said he wasn’t surprised to learn Ryan is leaving Washington.
“I’m surprised that it’s taken him this long because he’s had to be embarrassed at his position and the relation to the person who’s occupying the White House,” he said.
Mel Stankewicz, sporting an National Rifle Association hat as he left Citrus Café, said Ryan has done a good job overall. While gun rights weren’t the only important issue for Stankewicz, he wanted to find a candidate who has strong backing from the NRA, he said.
He speculated Ryan could later run for president. At the other end of the political spectrum, Kotche thought the same. Still others thought Ryan could run for governor.
Inside Hedberg Public Library, a few patrons who said they were not district residents said now was the time for Ryan to spend more time with his family.
Roxanne Kolasch said Ryan could consider writing a book, as many politicians do when they leave office. She had no opinion of Ryan’s politics, but she didn’t blame him for not seeking re-election.
Monica Beckham of Beloit did not have a favorable opinion of Ryan. She said she wasn’t surprised by the news of Ryan’s decision, believing he likely got tired of Trump and national politics.
Jean Noble of Footville said she knows the Ryan family. She thinks he didn’t like the direction the country is headed, making it easier to save face and get out now, she said.
Noble hopes Ryan keeps a high profile, such as working in the public sector and sharing his values with like-minded people.
But returning to public office? Noble said it wouldn’t be worth the stress for Ryan.
Reporter Jake Magee contributed to this story.