Northern Michigan’s congressman faced a raucous crowd at a town hall meeting in Gaylord Thursday night.
There was lots of booing and some cheering for Rep. Jack Bergman (R-Watersmeet) at the event. Constituents asked him about Russian meddling in the election, health care, and the Great Lakes, among other issues.
Critics of Bergman had been calling for a town hall meeting for weeks. But not everyone at the event was an opponent of the freshman lawmaker.
Sue Zweigle, a retiree living in Gaylord, was near the front of the meeting hall before it began. She was wearing a Washington Redskins sweatshirt and sitting with her husband. Zweigle voted for Bergman, but he was the only Republican she voted for in November.
“I was reading good things about him," Zweigle said. She said he sounded like an honest guy.
Zweigle said she wanted to know what Bergman would say about Russian meddling in the election.
"I want to hear that they are going to do something about what’s going on with the … president and other people and the Russians … if they are going to have some kind of hearing," Zweigle said.
The crowd was confrontational from the start, when a local pastor came out to lead a prayer. Many in the crowd began chanting “separation of church and state” and continued chanting throughout the entire prayer.
Rep. Bergman came out on stage a few minutes later in front of a giant American flag and took questions for less than an hour. The questions were picked at random from a box.
Someone asked the congressman early on about the oil pipeline Line 5 that crosses underneath the Straits of Mackinac. A number of groups have called for shutting down the pipeline in recent years.
"The question was, when will the data be enough to shut down pipeline 5?” Bergman said to the crowd. “I guess when the engineers say it is.”
Bergman drew applause when he talked about funding a federal program that cleans up pollution in the Great Lakes. He was also cheered when he talked about keeping Asian carp out of the Great Lakes.
About halfway through the night, Sue Zweigle’s name was pulled at random out of the box.
Zweigle stood up, took the microphone, and asked Bergman why there hasn’t yet been a hearing on Russian meddling in the election.
Bergman responded by saying he was not sure why there hadn’t been one yet, and went on to talk about the historic relationship between Russia and the United States.
After the event, Zweigle said she was glad her question was picked but she wasn’t happy with the answer she got.
“I wanted to know if he would stand up to the Republican Party and say we need to have a hearing now,” Zweigle said. “And basically he didn’t give an answer to it.”
Despite all the yelling, Tim Aschmann left the meeting saying the town hall went pretty well. Aschmann, who voted for Bergman, is retired and lives in Fife Lake.
He says Bergman did a good job at the meeting.
“I think it was informative. It was very good,” Aschmann said. “He was able to come out and tell us what he was going to do, and I think he was very open about the fact that he’s still a freshman congressman.”
Aschmann said he was not surprised with the booing during the town hall.
“I was expecting it. I wasn’t happy with it,” Aschmann said. “As a matter of fact I got angry a few times when they did it.”
Aschmann said he can even sympathize with some of the critics’ concerns, like the issue of the pipeline across the Straits of Mackinac. But he trusts Bergman to handle it well.