In Merrill: If Congress Could Get Along Like Us…


Between 8:45 and 9:00 a.m. on weekdays, a group of retired Merrill men usually meet at a local restaurant for their morning coffee. It’s an out of the way place, behind an old fire house in a concrete building.

On Wednesday, seven retired men, most unshaven and dressed in jeans, flannel, and fleece, poured their coffee and discussed Tuesday night’s presidential debate.

The group poked and prodded each other about Big Bird’s 15-seconds of fame or how one thought Mitt Romney was a “lightweight” for being the governor of a state a fraction of the size of Wisconsin.

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Ray Bollmer, a retired junior high and high school math teacher said he’s voting for President Obama. He believes Democratic-led governments let middle class citizens keep more of their money than Republicans do.

“I’m a lifelong Demipublican or Republicrat,” he said. Bollmer belonged to the Young Republicans when he was young, but says he votes for the best candidate, no matter their party affiliation.

In his next breath he launched into a monologue about education. He wants officials to stop the “smack talk” about the poor condition of the country’s schools. Bollmer thinks American students have it made. “If you can speak English by the age of 11, your destiny is set,” he said.

The men laughed like a group who had heard him say that before. After going on for a few minutes, local Republican Party volunteer Garth Swanson interrupted him. “If anybody were a good moderator, we would have cut him off about three minutes ago.”

Konrad Serbus sat next to Swanson. He defended Bollmer. Serbus is a retired dairy farmer who is also voting for Obama. He emigrated from Switzerland in the late 1960’s and thinks Obama can turn the economy around, if he is given more time.

Serbus says it’s sad to see how opportunities are dwindling for young people. If he were younger and still in Switzerland, he said he’d go to South America instead of the U.S., because there would be more opportunity there.

Others disagreed, rolled their eyes, and chuckled. “Oh give up on it already; he’s a socialist,” one said.

Serbus shook his head and took a drink of his coffee. “No. If you want a socialist, move to Cuba.”

The group continued on like that for another hour or so. They discussed everything from women’s rights to local government races, and previous presidential administrations. Swanson says they meet because agreeing to disagree makes for better conversation.

“In the end, everyone just wants what is best for the country,” he said. The men shook their heads in agreement. “It would be great if the parties could think like that.”

This story is part of Wisconsin Public Radio’s Road to November series. Reporters Maureen McCollum and Lindsey Moon are traveling north along Highway 51 talking to voters about the election all this week. What issue is most important to you? Tweet @WPRNews #WIpolitics. Find updates from the road on WPRNews’ Facebook page.

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