Ron Paul event draws supporters, detractors

More than 1,450 people from across the state flocked to Central Michigan University Saturday to hear Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul's campaign speech before Tuesday's primary.

John Engel traveled from Bay City to support Paul, who he called “the only true conservative in the race.”

“It’s the only thing that makes sense," Engel said. "He is the only one who is really addressing our national debt with serious cuts."

Some students, even those who disagree with Paul's views, said they were glad Paul visited, where he was met by a full crowd in Warriner Hall's Plachta Auditorium.

“I think it’s really awesome that people are getting involved in the civil process,” said Michelle Shamaly, College Democrats member, SGA Press Secretary and a senior from Clinton Township.

College Republicans member Stephanie Jaczkowski, a Clinton Township senior, agreed.

“It’s great to see other people involved, whether they agreed with Ron Paul or not,” she said. “They really do understand we have a vested interest in our future.”

Paul’s speech included many references to civil liberties and freedom.

“That’s a message that resonates with every American,” Jaczkowski said.

However, Shamaly did not accept that message coming from Paul.

“He talks about civil rights and liberties, but if you dig into it a little more, you’ll find he is anti-gay and (anti-)women’s rights,” she said.

Paul was brought to CMU by Campus Conservatives, a registered student organization. Campus Conservatives President Taylor Jackson, a Mount Pleasant senior, said the night was a definite success.

“It went very well,” he said. “This was big, especially for our group.”

While the RSO will not be offering an endorsement, Jackson said he was glad the event drew such an enthusiastic crowd.

“There was a tremendous amount of energy in the audience,” he said. “Dr. Paul was very well received by everyone there.”

Because the 1,226 seats in the auditorium were full, attendees stood lining the walls of the room, and a crowd stood in the lobby listening to an audio stream of the event. Those who were not admitted were also given vouchers to attend Monday's speech at Michigan State University.

Outside Warriner, volunteers from the Committee For a Safer Michigan collected signatures to legalize marijuana for people 21 and older.

Among them was James Louallen, who traveled from Marion.

"Police have better things to do with my tax money," he said. "Alcohol and marijuana prohibition doesn't work."

The newly formed group has until July to get 366,000 signatures; so far they have a few thousand and added about 150 before the event, one volunteer said.

The group's website states: "We believe police should stop enforcing marijuana prohibition and instead refocus their priorities to arrest violent criminals and other real threats to public safety."

Paul echoed that sentiment in his speech, saying "The 40-year war on drugs has failed."

Whitehall senior Justin Robillard and his friends were thrilled to learn Paul was coming to campus.

"I have liked Ron Paul since my freshman year in 2007," he said. "We didn't know he was even coming to Michigan."

The speech helped Paul gain some new supporters as well.  For Sears senior Steve Prichard, the event solidified a vote for Paul in Tuesday's primary, after getting a clearer idea of what he stands for.

"I got lucky to come here," he said. "He gave a good speech."

However, not all young people present were students at CMU.

Paul Gray, a recent graduate from the University of Cincinnati, has been traveling around the country with the campaign selling T-shirts he designed.

"Ron Paul inspired me, so I came up with the T-shirt idea and figured I'd practice capitalism," he said.

The shirts read "viva la constitution," with Ron Paul's face planted in the silhouette of George Washington.

"The shirts have been selling really well, and it's a blast doing it," he said.

Military support

"Today, more military members support Dr. Paul than any other candidate," said Tony Demott, of Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen for Ron Paul, who spoke before Paul came to the stage.

Paul opposes the Patriot Act, a law passed in 2001 that authorized warrantless wiretaps, and the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act, which includes a vague provision that may allow the military to indefinitely detain American citizens without trial.

About 20 veterans were recognized before the speech and stood behind Paul as he spoke.

However, their lack of diversity raised questions for some attendees.

"I thought it was odd they didn’t have any women or minorities on the stage,” Shamaly said. “It speaks to who his base is.”

But Jaczkowski thought the omission was unintentional.

“It probably had nothing to do with the campaign,” she said. “It was probably just who was available tonight.”

Among the veterans on stage was retired staff sergeant Rhys Williams of Weidman.

Williams, a member of Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen for Ron Paul, gladly accepted the invitation he received earlier this week.

"He cares about the problems that I focus on looking at, that affected myself and my family," he said.

Williams said he agrees with Paul's non-interventionist foreign policy and defended it against claims of isolationism.

The veterans received several standing ovations, cheers and shouts of gratitude from the audience.

"I was beaming ear to ear," Williams said. "My family calls me a hero, but that man (Paul) is my hero"