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The Journal Gazette

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Saturday, May 06, 2017 1:00 am

Local leaders pleased at visit from speaker

BRIAN FRANCISCO | The Journal Gazette

U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan slipped into Fort Wayne for breakfast with local Republican Party officials and business leaders Friday.

Allen County Republican Chairman Steve Shine said Ryan's appearance at the Ramada Plaza Hotel and Conference Center had been scheduled weeks earlier and that it was a coincidence he was in town the day after the GOP-controlled House narrowly passed legislation that would replace the federal Affordable Care Act.

Shine said Ryan, R-Wis., came here for three reasons: to express his support for freshman Rep. Jim Banks, R-3rd, who voted in favor of the American Health Care Act; to provide local leaders with an update on the legislation; and to raise money for Team Ryan, a joint fundraising committee for Ryan, his leadership political action committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee.

“Given the fact that the vote was (Thursday), he could have easily canceled today and gone on to other venues that might have been equally important, but he kept his word and honored his obligation here,” Shine said in a telephone interview after Ryan's visit.

“The speaker chose to keep Allen County as his first stop after such a historic vote, which speaks highly of our community and the Allen County GOP's role as the premier political organization in Indiana,” Shine said.

He said about 25 people were at the 8:45 a.m. breakfast at the Ramada Plaza on the city's north side. Invited attendees included local health care, construction and communications business leaders, although Shine declined to name them. The event had not been publicized and was closed to news media.

Banks said in a statement: “Today's event speaks to the importance of northeast Indiana and our role in shaping the direction of our country. It was an honor to have Speaker Ryan in Fort Wayne less than 24 hours after he stood next to President (Donald) Trump in the Rose Garden celebrating the passage of Obamacare repeal.”

The Affordable Care Act is commonly called Obamacare because it was President Barack Obama's signature piece of legislation when he signed it in 2010. House Republicans have tried ever since to repeal the law, which requires most Americans to carry health insurance or face tax penalties.

Justin Kuhnle, vice chairman of the 3rd District Democratic Party, said about the Ryan-Banks-GOP gathering: “It's pretty telling that they can't go to their constituents that they're supposed to represent and actually share, 'Hey, this is our bill, what do you guys think of it?' Instead, it's done behind closed doors.”

Indiana Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, who was leaving the Ramada Plaza parking lot on Friday when The Journal Gazette arrived, confirmed Ryan's earlier appearance. Long said he was on his way to another event and referred questions about the breakfast to local GOP activist and real estate investor Bill Bean, who owns the Ramada Plaza and organized Ryan's visit.

Bean said in a statement released by Shine that Ryan “has fulfilled seven years of work in repealing a bad law that has cost Hoosiers and all Americans far too much money. Now we can move forward and make the changes our nation needs.”

According to an analysis by The Associated Press, 10,550 residents of Allen County are enrolled this year in insurance plans offered through the ACA.

With the Senate now expected to overhaul the proposal, Kuhnle said, “This is all stuff that Republicans and Democrats in D.C. could have been doing long ago – figuring out the stuff that didn't work in the Affordable Care Act and replacing that, finding the stuff that does work and improving it.”

Ryan's visit to Fort Wayne was his second in the past eight months. He campaigned for U.S. Senate candidate Todd Young at a fundraising luncheon at Fort Wayne Country Club in September. Young won election in November.