After another tumultuous year in US politics, Congressman Jack Bergman has no regrets
In January, U.S. Representative Jack Bergman (R-Watersmeet) voted against certifying President Joe Biden’s victory, even after the insurrection attempt.
Rep. Bergman was direct when asked if he had any regrets.
"The short answer is no," he said.
And the long answer?
The 2020 Election
In November, U.S. Representative Jack Bergman (R-Watersmeet) was re-elected to a third term in the U.S. House of Representatives with over 60 percent of the vote. But he couldn’t break a tie on the Grand Traverse County Commission in February for a non-binding resolution.
It would have praised Rep. Bergman but failed by a 3-3 vote. Constituents like Richard Walter called in to ask the lawmaker to resign.
“[Bergman] should not be praised and should not be honored by a frivolous resolution that does nothing to help this community,” he said.
A few of Bergman's supporters called in to repeat baseless or debunked claims of voter fraud, including Heather Cerone, who ran for a state house seat last year.
"Congressman Bergman is representing the majority of the people in our district. The election was fraudulent," she said during public comment.
Rep. Jack Bergman says he did not want to overturn the election results, but did want a federal commission to audit them.
"People in Michigan and people in my district wanted to know that when they voted that their vote was fairly counted, it was accurately counted, and if you weren’t supposed to vote, your vote wasn’t counted," the lawmaker said.
Individual states, including Michigan, did post-election audits before results were certified.
One constituent group has since asked Rep. Bergman’s campaign donors to divest from his re-election efforts.
Jack Bergman was born and raised near Minneapolis but started vacationing in the Upper Peninsula as a child. His pre-politics career was split between the U.S. Marine Corps and the private sector.
When the UP’s congressional seat opened up he thought about running, but Jack Bergman was unknown in northern Michigan.
“Oh sure, who’s gonna vote for you? Nobody knows you,” Bergman recalls his wife saying.
That outsider status helped get Bergman the job, according to a Tea Party organizer. In 2016 he beat two former state senators, Tom Casperson and Jason Allen, in the Republican primary before winning the general election.
The Military Man
Rep. Jack Bergman is very popular among Republicans in northern Michigan like Cam Williams. She works for the Grand Traverse County GOP. Williams likes Bergman’s staunchly conservative politics and anti-abortion stance.
"He’s concerned about the same things that I am," she says.
But most important to her is Bergman’s military background. Williams’ husband and father both served and she believes Bergman knows how to clean up bureaucracy in the Department of Veterans Affairs.
"He’s been in the military. He knows the red tape that there is in the military," she says. "He’s just trying to make that easier for veterans."
She has a strong relationship with the Congressman's office, and occasionally calls to get his stance on an issue. If she can't get Rep. Bergman himself, Williams says someone usually gets back to her.
"I can get a hold of someone to tell me something," she says.
But the Congressman is an elusive figure to others in his district.
Amy Hjerstedt is a veteran and also comes from a military family. To her Congressman Bergman still feels like an outsider.
“I don’t actually hear a ton of people talking about him here,” she says.
Hjerstedt, who teaches Political Science at Lake Superior State in Sault Saint Marie, said she’s called his office but has never talked to Bergman himself. She says her voicemails often go unanswered.
Hjerstedt adds she doesn’t see Bergman having town halls or coffee hours like other lawmakers.
"It’s like he strategically just comes and goes as fast as he can and really doesn’t have any desire to talk with his constituents," she says.
Congressman Bergman's website has a calendar that redirects to the home page where constituents can request meetings.
A spokesman for the Congressman says they instead promote his events with press releases and newsletters. IPR combed through communications in 2021 and found no announcements of public availability ahead of time. On social media Congressman Bergman's office will post pictures after an event, like a visit to Elk Rapids High School in February.
Hjerstedt says she only sees Bergman at one spot.
"The only thing our elected will come to is the Soo Locks and [he] acts like it’s his personal project when really we know this has been decades in the works," she says.
As of February, Rep. Bergman had 24 bills signed into law, most were on Veterans issues. That productivity is similar to other republicans he was elected with in 2016.
Jack Bergman dismisses 90 percent of his critics as partisan.
“I think you should ask the people when they say that: ‘Well, did you vote for him?'” the lawmaker says. "Let’s face it, that is rhetoric meant to poison people’s opinion, and I would suggest it’s from the left.”
Bergman says he’s been there for his constituents. He met with a Traverse City-based Indivisible group several times through 2019. Otherwise the Congressman blames some of those constituents for his unavailability. Rep. Bergman points to raucous town halls during his first-term as proof that some don’t want to talk.
Rep. Bergman says he wants to host more events with constituents after the Covid-19 pandemic, with a caveat.
"But if they wanna do the things that they did after the 2016 election, like boo the prayer at a town hall meeting and yell during The Pledge of Allegiance? That’s middle school behavior," he says.
As for the other complaints against him, the lawmaker blames the district’s size.
"People who are really paying attention to where I am and what I’m doing, they know that if I’m up in Houghton on Tuesday there’s a pretty good chance I’m not gonna be in Traverse City on Wednesday," Bergman says.
Jack Bergman's district is big. With 32 counties spread across two peninsulas and time zones, Michigan's 1st Congressional District is the second-largest east of the Mississippi River.
Former Democratic Congressman Bart Stupak held the seat for nearly 20 years.
“Staying in contact with constituents was my number one priority,” he says.
Stupak says the 1st Congressional is a Republican district that he won by talking face-to-face with voters.
But he says that kind of politics may be extinct. The constant travel eventually kept him from seeking re-election. And Stupak doesn’t think politicians have a dialogue with constituents now.
He says too many lawmakers avoid the heat and constituents are constantly battling misinformation.
"It’s a difficult time, we’re bitterly divided as a nation. But that’s when I think you need your elected officials out there more trying to bridge those gaps," he says.
Stupak says a Democrat could win the 1st Congressional again. But adds that would require the right candidate and for the party to care about the rural district.
In the meantime Congressman Jack Bergman says he’s not going anywhere.
"In case anyone’s wondering, yes I am gonna run again in 2022, and probably 2024 and who knows 2026 and beyond," he says.
Editor's note: A previous version of this story misstated part of Rep. Bergman's background. The story has been updated.