August 24, 2012

From brown-noser to Capitol Hill fixture

Despite divisive views - even to his hometown fans - he's seen as a genuine All-American guy.

By DAVID CRARY/AP National Writer

(Continued from page 1)

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FILE - In this April 13, 2011, file photo House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., takes questions in reaction to President Obama's speech on a federal spending plan, during a news conference at the Capitol in Washington. Ryan initially established his reputation in Congress mostly behind-the-scene, impressing GOP colleagues with his willingness to delve into complex number-crunching and budgetary minutia. But he has become in the past couple of years one of the highest-profile and influential members of the House, to the point that he engaged in verbal showdowns with President Barack Obama. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)


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FILE - In this April 1, 2008, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., ranking Republican on the House Budget Committee, talks to media about an alternative Republican budget plan, The Path to American Prosperity, that he is promoting in the House. Throughout his rapid political ascent, to become chief architect of love-it or hate-it Republican budget policy, many of Ryan's Democratic adversaries have coupled criticism of his ideology with praise for his cordiality, diligence and thoughtfulness. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)


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NAME: Paul Davis Ryan, 42; born Jan. 29, 1970; Janesville, Wis. 

EXPERIENCE: U.S. Representative; 1999-present; marketing consultant, Ryan Inc. Central, 1997-1998; legislative director for U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., 1995-1997; adviser and speechwriter, Empower America, 1993-1995; aide to U.S. Sen. Bob Kasten, R-Wis., 1992.

EDUCATION: Bachelor's degree, Miami University of Ohio, 1992. 

FAMILY: Wife, Janna; daughter Liza 10, sons Charles, 8, and Sam, 7. 

QUOTE: "Here in Wisconsin, I picked who I think is going to be the next president of the United States - I picked Mitt Romney. The moment is here. The country can be saved. It is not too late to get America back on the right track. ... It is not too late to save the American idea." - Ryan, speaking during an April 2012 campaign stop with Romney after endorsing him in the Republican primary.


Life was about to change in other ways, too, for Ryan. During his first term in Congress, he met and married Janna Little, a lawyer and lobbyist from an affluent Oklahoma family who was working in the Washington area. She's a first cousin of retiring Rep. Dan Boren, an Oklahoma Democrat.

Their courtship included a deer-hunting sortie in Wisconsin in which Ryan shot an eight-point buck - and later credited Janna with spotting it. The article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel announcing their engagement reported that Ryan "does his own skinning and butchering, and makes his own Polish sausage."

The Ryans now have three children - Liza, 10, Charles, 8, and Sam, 7 - who live in Janesville with their mother. Ryan has gone back frequently for weekend visits, attending Mass at St. John Vianney Church, doing yard work. While in Washington, he has slept on a cot in his office rather than rent a place.

Yet during his political ascension, Ryan resisted pleas to run for governor of Wisconsin, citing his commitment to the budget debate in Congress.

"I didn't want to walk away from the conversation I started and the fight I'm in," he told the AP.

In his early years in Congress, Ryan built his reputation mostly behind the scenes. More recently, he's become one of the highest-profile members of the House, to the point where he has engaged in verbal showdowns with President Barack Obama.

In April 2011, the president unleashed a blistering attack on Ryan-drafted GOP plans, saying they would extend tax cuts for the wealthy while demanding that older people pay more for health care. Among those in the audience was Ryan, who believed his invitation to the speech was an olive branch from the White House.

"Instead, what we got was a speech that was excessively partisan, dramatically inaccurate and hopelessly inadequate to addressing our country's pressing fiscal challenges," Ryan said afterward.

After news broke of Ryan's selection by Romney, Obama spoke out again.

"He is a decent man, he is a family man, he is an articulate spokesman for Gov. Romney's vision, but it is a vision that I fundamentally disagree with," Obama said.


If there's any bipartisan consensus about Ryan on Capitol Hill, it pertains to his physique. Lean and buff, he leads other Capitol Hill denizens in grueling morning sessions of the popular P90X workout program.

Healthy living is one thing. But when it comes to health policy, and specifically Medicare, Ryan's policies have been polarizing, hailed by tea party advocates and Republican leaders and denounced by Democrats.

Former Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold, a fellow Janesville native and Craig High School alumnus, but also a liberal Democrat, congratulated Ryan on making the GOP ticket, but branded that ticket "fundamentally wrong for our nation."

From the other side of the spectrum, Republican Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina, a driving force behind tea party candidates for Congress, offered this view.

"I've worked closely with Paul for years and this isn't a political game to him," said DeMint. "This is truly about saving our country and making the future better for our children."

Ryan's record runs deeper than his signature budget and Medicare ideas. He opposes abortion rights and same-sex marriage, and has a top rating from gun-rights groups. But in conflict with some Republicans, he supported the auto industry and bank bailouts that many in the GOP's right flank criticized.

The auto bailout helped General Motors survive, but it didn't spare a GM assembly plant in Janesville that shut down in 2009 as the economy sputtered. That cost an estimated 6,000 jobs, at the plant and its suppliers. It was a painful blow for a city of 60,000.

Ryan teamed with Democrats in Wisconsin's congressional delegation to prod GM executives to reopen the plant, but the effort failed.

Still, the native son remembers where he came from, supporters say. Tobin Ryan insists that the close contact with Washington lobbyists and well-heeled donors hasn't fundamentally changed his younger brother.

"It is absolutely amazing that he is the same guy today as he was before he ran for Congress," Tobin said. "You will never take the Janesville and Wisconsin out of him."

Ryan himself stressed his Wisconsin roots, and his affection for Wisconsin beers, in a speech a day after his selection by Romney.

"My veins run with cheese, bratwurst, a little Spotted Cow, Leinies and some Miller," he said. "I like to hunt here, I like to fish here, I like to snowmobile here. I even think ice fishing is interesting."

In 2010, Ryan and his wife bought a stately six-bedroom brick house in Janesville's Courthouse Hill historic district, where he'd grown up. The 1928 home, valued at $459,000, formerly belonged to the president of the Parker Pen Co.

It was evidence that Ryan has done well financially, with a net worth of about $4.5 million. Most of his money comes from his marriage and inheritances.

His neighbors say Ryan does small things to show he cares about them even after his rise to power in Washington.

Bill Westphal, 72, who lives across the street from the Ryan family, was good friends with Jeffrey Thomas, a Democrat who challenged Ryan for his congressional seat four times and who died in 2009.

"Guess who showed up at his funeral, all the way from Washington?" Westphal said. "Everybody in the audience was surprised. Paul Ryan did not consider him an enemy because he was a member of the opposite party."

Val Crofts teaches government at the high school in Milton, a small town near Janesville, and each year takes advanced placement students on a trip to Washington to meet with political figures.

Ryan has been a big supporter of the program, Crofts said, but last year was able to spend only a few minutes with the visitors because of a budget presentation in the House.

"After we got home, he told us he wanted more time with us, and he came to our high school and gave us an hour of Q-and-A," Crofts said.

Crofts said Ryan has good chemistry with the students, regardless of their political views.

"He jokes around with them and explains things about the budget and Washington so well," Crofts said. "Government doesn't seem so stuffy and old and faraway anymore."


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Additional Photos

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This undated photo provided by the Ryan family shows Paul Ryan and Janna Ryan on the day of their wedding. During his first term in Congress, Ryan met and married Janna Little, a lawyer and lobbyist from an affluent Oklahoma family, who was working in the Washington area. In the days since Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney selected Ryan for the vice presidential slot on the Republican ticket, the now 42-year-old congressman's biography has become instant folklore. Lifelong resident of a little city in the heartland, embracing new responsibilities as a teen after the sudden death of his father. Devoted husband and father, devout Roman Catholic, avid deer hunter, fisherman and fitness buff. (AP Photo/Courtesy of the Ryan Family)



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