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Yes, Mike Ryan's a Republican. But no, he doesn't necessarily toe the GOP line

Michael Ryan is like a lot of us. He doesn’t think the health care system works very well, and as a self-employed dentist, he should know. He has problems with the Affordable Care Act. He thinks it needs to be a lot simpler and have better cost controls.

But he isn’t happy with the Republican failure to come up with any alternative, either. What makes Ryan different, however, is that he is a Republican, and is running for the state Legislature. You’ve probably never heard of him, but don’t feel bad.

Many people in his district haven’t, either. And here’s why I admire this man: Ryan, who has a wife and four kids, married relatively late in life, and is not wealthy.

He’s put his heart, soul and about $4,000 into this race. He’s talking about the issues, going door to door. But what’s most remarkable is that he knows he has little chance to win. He’s the Republican nominee in the 27th District.

That’s a collection of Detroit suburbs that are heavily Democratic – the Jewish and black city of Oak Park; liberal Ferndale and Huntington Woods; blue-collar Berkley and Hazel Park.

Two years ago, the last GOP nominee here lost almost four to one. There’s no incumbent this year, but the Democratic nominee, Robert Wittenberg, is seen as an automatic winner. But Mike Ryan thinks the people deserve a choice.

He’s anything but rigid, ideological and doctrinaire. Even his campaign literature admits he doesn’t always vote Republican. “Being exposed to my wife’s even more independent voting patterns forces me to think about how public laws affect ordinary people.”

When it comes to health care, what he would like to do is have Michigan come up with its own system. He would fund it partly by raising the sales tax. But he is open to suggestions. “That’s how you get somewhere, you know?” he told me.

He said as a dentist, he said he learned how to deal with difficult patients with opinions that often were at odds with reality. He told me, “by engaging them in telling me why they feel the way they do, we could often find a way of proceeding that would work for everyone.” By the way, he doesn’t exactly have a silk-stocking practice. He works part of the time with Medicaid patients in Detroit.

Though he has been lambasting Democratic waste during this campaign, Ryan told me he didn’t have much patience with his fellow Republicans who refuse to fix the roads, and don’t recognize that charter schools need more regulation.

So – if he got to Lansing, how would he get anything done? He told me he’d try to function like a lobbyist, educating lawmakers on issues he knew and cared about.

The Michigan Republican Party hasn’t contributed in any way to his campaign, he told me. He said his family is strongly supportive – except about the money he’s had to spend. I asked him this.

If you lose, but your campaign gets people talking about your health care plan, will it have been worth it?

“Yes, it would,” he told me. My guess is that when the Founding Fathers were thinking about representative democracy, they had guys a lot like Mike Ryan in mind.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s political analyst. Views expressed in the essays by Lessenberry are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.

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