Note: a follow up to this series can be found here.
"I hope hope he's taking his blood pressure medication!"
-- Paul Ryan
"I've got a burr under my saddle blanket, and Paul Ryan put it there!"
Tom Nielsen is a 71 year old man with a booming voice. He spoke out at Paul Ryan's Rotary Lunch in Greenfield, Wisconsin, last Tuesday, and was summarily escorted from the room, pushed to the floor, handcuffed, and ejected from the building. He was given municipal citations for violations of 2 city ordinances: resisting arrest and trespassing - even though he had purchased an event ticket.
Originally from Denmark, Mr. Nielson has lived in the US for over 50 years. He's a retired union plumber who has worked hard all his life, and paid his share into the system. Ryan's comment, so easily asserted, that "entitlements are the main problem facing our economy," set him off. He hadn't planned to say anything during the luncheon, but felt he had to speak up.
He watched with increasing dismay as two people were arrested for speaking and 20 others were forcefully escorted out of the building. He had strong feelings about Ryan just standing there watching people being removed from the lunch. Ryan made numerous demeaning comments aimed at the protestors, such as "We can get her a "to go" bag!" referring to a woman being kicked out of the event and "What's unique and exciting about this is that the Rotarians got 15 bucks out of them!" as others were ejected.
One of the coordinators of the Rotary event, a local businessman, confirmed via phone today that Rotary is non-partisan, and that they wanted to hear Paul Ryan speak. I asked him "Why did Ryan have so many policemen there?" referring to the 25 or more cops from multiple jurisdictions both inside and outside of the building. He didn't know. I asked him, "Why do you think your colleagues laughed at Rep Ryan's joke regarding the ousting of the elderly man?" and he said that they didn't discuss it.
He did say, "We are concerned with finding jobs for a lot of people… interested in turning the economy around, and like to hear points of view from all directions to see which way it should go. We think debate is good but we were frustrated with the protestors." We talked a bit more about jobs, and I thanked him and hung up.
I then called one of the activists present at the event and asked her, "How would you feel if you were at a political speech that you wanted to hear, and rightwing protestors were shouting down your speaker?"
She responded: "Ryan is an elected representative, and he has offered no free public appearances… Isn't an elected representative accountable to his constituents?" I mentioned that his staff claims that he has offered public appearances, and she replied, "He points to telephone conference calls as a "public appearance," and he cites private meetings with business leaders as public appearances. That is a far cry from 17 town halls he conducted during his summer recess two years ago. All were face to face, free and open to the people."
I then called Representative Ryan's offices in Janesville and Kenosha to ask the following questions:
• How does Representative Ryan feel about the disruptions of his Rotary luncheon near Milwaukee?
• An older man was arrested after speaking out. Representative Ryan made a joke about it. Does he regret this in retrospect?
• Do you think it is fair to claim that the Representative has not been listening to his constituents?
Both offices directed me towards Ryan's Press Secretary in D.C, Kevin Seifert (202-225-3031). I've called throughout the day. Their lines, they say, are swamped. I left messages requesting a return call for "an article I am writing about Representative Ryan's Rotary Lunch in Milwaukee."
Radio silence so far. (Got a call back at 5:00 Central Time. See Update below.)
This is why Tom Nielson is frustrated. He's worked all his life. He is now retired. He's neither rabble rouser nor chronic protestor. He is a proud man, and a proud union man. He is sick of hearing that the system he paid into for fifty years is "an unsustainable entitlement." He is sick of seeing the unions demonized.
Mr. Nielson doesn't want the spotlight, and doesn't intend to press charges. But that doesn't make him happy with the treatment he received. His response to being roughed up while Ryan cracked a joke at his expense?
He states in his thick Danish accent, "I've got a burr under my saddle blanket… and Paul Ryan put it there!"
(This is a follow up diary to Paul Ryan Takes A Cheap Shot At An Elderly Man)
UPDATE #1: Response From Paul Ryan's Press Secretary
5:30 pm, CST
Paul Ryan's DC Press Secretary Kevin Seifert just returned my call. He asked me for my specific questions (mentioned above) and will send me an email response. I'll include this here when received.
Transmission Received: This is from Paul Ryan's Press Secretary. He doesn't answer the question about "The older man," but gives us some talking points regarding meetings:
Thanks for the call. Responses to your questions are below.
Regarding your question about the 71 year old individual who was removed from the Rotary Club event on Tuesday, I’d refer you to the statement offered by Greenfield Interim Police Chief Brad Wentlandt - "The event was a private function, held on private property," Greenfield Interim Police Chief Brad Wentlandt said. "The Whitnall Rotary was the host and in control of the banquet hall, thereby having the right to allow entry, refuse entry or demand that anyone be removed who they did not want there....We had a procedure in place where a member of the rotary — the property 'owners' for the event — would ask the unruly person to sit down and be quiet," Wentlandt said. "If the person refused, then law enforcement would step in and make the same request. If the person continued to refuse, they were escorted out. If they did not resist, they were escorted to the doors and off the property. If they continued their behavior or resisted, they were arrested."
On Congressman Ryan’s accessibility during the August recess: As he does every recess, Congressman Ryan provided those he represents a number of opportunities to directly discuss their thoughts and concerns about the economy and the federal government’s policies. Congressman Ryan held telephone town hall meetings, participated in area events like the Walworth County Fair , toured local businesses to talk with workers and entrepreneurs, and met with a number of Southern Wisconsin residents while the House was in recess last month.
A summary of these events is below:
- Conducted 15 radio and interviews with Southern Wisconsin stations.
- Toured a half dozen local businesses, hearing directly from employees and job creators. To learn more about Paul's visit to Snap-on Tools in Kenosha: http://www.marketwatch.com/....
- Participated in the Kenosha Beef 75th Anniversary Luncheon
- Joined his mobile office at the Walworth County Fair
- Participated in an event at the Janesville Rotary Club and Whitnall Rotary Club Event
- Held multiple meetings with residents in the 1st Congressional District on federal issues such as funding for the Peace Corps, Financial Services reform legislation, and efforts by the American Cancer Society. He also conducted phone calls with individual constituents regarding problems or concerns they are having with the federal government.
- Hosted multiple hour-long meetings with constituents at his Janesville Constituent Service Center
- Addressed the 2011 Leadership Lunch for the Southeast Wisconsin Boy Scouts of America. (For more on this event: http://www.clubrunner.ca/...)
UPDATE #2: Phone Interview with Tom Nielsen:
9:35 pm CST
I just conducted a phone interview with Tom Nielsen, the man mentioned above:
Describe what happened to you?
I had a ticket for the event, so it is not trespassing. I no more than voiced my opinion. I'm 6'4, 235 pounds but recently had a car accident and a broken clavicle. I told the policemen that. They were not too impressed. One policeman had my head down on the ground, and was six inches from my face, growling and snarling at me. I was worried about my shoulder, and said please don't hurt me. I said it five times. It fell to deaf ears. I was not a danger to anybody. Why throw me on the ground and cuff me with plastic handcuffs and cut my circulation? I have big hands, you don't have to put them on that tight. Shanon, one of the other people arrested, had bruises on her arms and wrists. They were obviously hired for crowd control. I don't think Rotary did that, I think that there was anticipation on Paul Ryan's part. There were two paddy wagons on deck … this shows that they anticipated something. We were not trying to do this, and they manipulated it to become about arrests.
How do you respond to people who were frustrated with the noisy protestors?
I'd say, "You are mad at me because you came to listen to him present all these falsehoods and sit there like you accept them and believe in them? Are you American, or what are you? You can't believe that these so called "entitlements" are ruining the economy!" I paid into Social Security for 52 years and am now collecting some of what I paid. My wife passed away recently. She'll never collect what she paid into. Can you imagine your retirement money if it is all up to the stock market? I think Paul Ryan has been mislead by the Koch Bros. He hasn't got enough guts to stand up to them. He used to be an Oscar Meyer Wiener salesman. Now he is a big shot in charge of all this whole government finances. How can he get such authority in only ten years? He spews this and tells us he gets all this encouragement from supporters so that he knows he is moving this country in the right direction. Of course he has to say something, but it is a fiasco.
Are you thinking of legal action?
You don't have to plea until the last minute. We are here for jobs. He is ignoring us totally. Listen to us! What he is saying and what we need done are two things traveling in different directions!
Why did you go to the event in the first place?
I wanted to hear what my Representative had to say. When I got there, I didn't want to get into any discussion with the Tea Baggers protesting outside. I didn't want to resist any police. I went inside to listen to what he had to say. He came in and was talking and making big jokes. I'm just a citizen, and heard the stuff about social security and health insurance, and when he called it "entitlement" I wanted to correct him. That was it for me. We were willing to leave when we were asked to. I was probably talking so loud that I didn't hear anyone ask me to leave. The next thing I knew, I was on the floor!
What was your response to Ryan's joke about you?
I am in perfect health.. everything. Back, heart, prostate, lungs: everything! Maybe he should check his own blood pressure rather than worrying about mine. I take care of my own self. If anyone has a stressful job, he certainly has, trying to do what the big machine wants him to do. His health must be suffering. How can it not suffer when he is causing so much suffering to so many people?