A capacity crowd of more than 550 people packed the Whitnall High School auditorium for Congressman Paul Ryan’s third of three scheduled listening sessions in Southeastern Wisconsin on Thursday.
And from the outset, the congressman from Janesville had to bob and weave around heckles and jeers.
Ryan received a standing ovation from a majority of the crowd when he took the stage a few minutes after 3 p.m., but was also met with a chorus of boos.
“There’s a lot of media here today,” Ryan said. “Let’s show them that we’re Wisconsinites and that we can have a civil debate, even if we disagree.”
Ryan’s comments on lifting what he called the moratorium on drilling for oil and gas in the United States, to lessen the country’s dependency on foreign energy supplies drew two large ovations, perhaps the largest of the afternoon.
But drilling was not popular among all those in attendance. One man booed Ryan loudly when he discussed the topic early on.
“I guess that guy doesn’t like it,” Ryan said, to which a woman responded, “He’s not alone.”
The back-and-forth continued throughout the session, which began with a 20-minute PowerPoint presentation. Ryan was interrupted often and others shouted over each other to try to be heard by the congressman.
“Screaming doesn’t work,” Ryan said. “Didn’t we just say we’re Wisconsinites? Be civil with one another. … Are you going to be polite, or are you going to yell? You’re bigger than that.”
Steve Jozefczyk, who attended an earlier session in Waterford and posed a question to Ryan there as well, drew boos from some when he admitted to changing clothes so he could ask another question about Ryan’s much publicized budget plan.
“We have different opinions on how to grow the economy, that’s totally legitimate and cool,” Ryan responded before moving on.
Ryan often tried to deal with the hecklers with comedy. When one person shouted, “Draft dodger,” Ryan laughed and said, “I’ve heard it all before.”
When another man said the government was run by corrupt, unintelligent and unqualified people, Ryan said, “I really don’t have an argument for that.”
The crowd was made up of mostly people 55 and above, with few attendees in their 20s or even 30s.
“I think he was listening to concerns. I liked his presentation. I liked the graphics he provided and that he presented information in ways we could understand,” said Bill Dickinson of Bay View.
Dickinson added he was not surprised with the reaction of the crowd despite Ryan’s pleas.
“He said, let’s talk to each other, let’s be civil and let’s cover all the bases,” Dickinson said. “I’ll give you my take on it and I’ll present my plans. If you have something to say, tell me about it.”
There was mild police presence as two members of the Greenfield Police Department stood near the entrances and a few police cars patrolled the parking lot.