Rep. Paul Ryan (R)
Wisconsin 1st District
With its rolling hills, blanketed by snow during most of the winter, gloriously green under blue skies in summer, the southern tier of Wisconsin, from Lake Michigan to the Rock River Valley, is some of America’s prime industrial country. Settled by Yankee and German farmers 170 years ago, it was once primarily dairy land. By the early 20th century, the steady habits and high skills of the local dairy farmers had made them a good labor pool for factories. There are still major plants here, including the operations center for S. C. Johnson Wax in Racine, with its Frank Lloyd Wright–designed tower. But the recent collapse of the domestic auto industry had a powerful impact on the local economy. In 2008, General Motors closed its Janesville plant, laying off 2,500 workers, and the following year, Chrysler announced that it would shutter its Kenosha plant and lay off 850. Unemployment in Rock County, which includes Janesville, jumped from 4.8% in October 2007 to 13.5% in March 2009.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
Kenosha, once primarily a factory town, has undergone a bit of a transformation, with some of the old smokestacks and shipyards along its lakefront replaced with museums, a marina, restaurants and boutiques that attract weekending Chicagoans and Chicago-based businesses. Other towns in the area have tried to follow suit, offering tax breaks and other enticements to lure Chicago businesses north. Most of this region is becoming metropolitan, part of the almost continuously suburban zone where metro Milwaukee melds into metro Chicago. But there are still some thriving old lake resorts, most notably Lake Geneva, a favorite of wealthy Chicagoans. In nearby Williams Bay is the University of Chicago’s historic Yerkes Observatory, long one of the nation’s largest astronomy research centers and often referred to as the birthplace of modern astrophysics.
This is the 1st Congressional District of Wisconsin. It runs from Lake Michigan west to Janesville in Rock County and encompasses all of Racine and Kenosha counties on Lake Michigan as well as parts of Walworth County, including Lake Geneva. It also takes in the southern Milwaukee County suburbs of Oak Creek and Greenfield and the southern tier of townships in suburban Waukesha County, including New Berlin. Generally, it tilts Republican, and Waukesha and Walworth counties are heavily Republican. In this presidential battleground state, the district voted 54% for Republican George W. Bush in 2004 but broke narrowly for Democrat Barack Obama in 2008, 51%-47%.
Rep. Paul Ryan (R)
Elected: 1998, 6th term.
Born: Jan. 29, 1970, Janesville .
Education: Miami U. of OH, B.A., 1992.
Family: Married (Janna); 3 children.
Professional Career: Aide, U.S. Sen. Bob Kasten, 1992; Advisor & speechwriter, Empower America, 1993-95; Legis. dir., U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback, 1995-97; Mktg. consultant., Ryan Inc. Central, 1997-98.
The congressman from the 1st District is Paul Ryan, a Republican elected in 1998 at age 28. He is the ranking Republican on the House Budget Committee. Ryan grew up in Janesville, where in 1884 his great-grandfather started a family construction firm, now run by his cousins. His father and Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold’s father had law offices in the same building. Ryan got started in politics early, as a staffer for Republican Sen. Bob Kasten while attending college at Miami University in Ohio. He planned to apply to the University of Chicago and eventually become an economist, but says he “just kept getting really interesting jobs" in politics. Ryan worked as a speechwriter for Republican Rep. Jack Kemp of New York and for the think tank of conservative pundit William Bennett, Empower America, and he was legislative director for Republican Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas. Ryan returned to the 1st District to run for the House when GOP Rep. Mark Neumann ran for the Senate in 1998 (Neumann lost to Feingold). Ryan won the Republican primary with 81% of the vote. Democrats nominated Kenosha County official Lydia Spottswood, who had lost to Neumann in 1996. Ryan campaigned against tax increases and in favor of gun ownership rights. This was a strenuously contested election, one of the Democrats’ top 10 priorities in the nation. Spottswood spent $1.33 million, and Ryan spent $1.24 million. However, the results were not close. Ryan won 57%-43%.
|Paul Ryan (R)||231,009||(64%)||($2,251,389)|
|Marge Krupp (D)||125,268||(35%)||($143,292)|
|Paul Ryan (R)||11,718||(100%)|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (63%), 2004 (65%), 2002 (67%), 2000 (67%), 1998 (57%)
In the House, Ryan has become a mainstream Republican who occasionally bucks his party and who takes centrist positions on foreign policy and some social issues. In 2007, he voted for a bill to prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and later said he supported the bill because he has friends “who didn’t choose to be gay … they were just created that way.” He said he “took a lot of crap” for the vote from social conservatives.
One of the most effective communicators among Republican fiscal conservatives, Ryan has pressed for the line-item veto and changes in the federal budget process to impose more spending discipline. He has also pressed the appropriations committees to cut spending, to no avail. On the Ways and Means Committee, he advocates business tax cuts to spur economic growth and was an ally of the conservative anti-tax group Club for Growth in criticizing President Bush’s tax cuts as too modest. He pushed for increased competition in Medicare plans and for the creation of health savings accounts. Ryan was an eager proponent of Bush’s plan to add personal retirement accounts to the Social Security program. In 2005, with Republican Sen. John Sununu of New Hampshire, he sponsored a plan to create payroll-tax-funded private retirement accounts that would be financed largely through spending cuts and new revenues predicted to result from the accounts. He complained that threatened retribution from Democratic leaders made it difficult for him to secure Democratic supporters.
In 2005, early in Bush’s second term, Ryan was offered the job of White House budget director but turned it down to remain in Congress. Two years later, he became the top Republican on the Budget Committee, vaulting over 12 more-senior Republicans on the committee. “We lost our brand as the party of fiscal responsibility, and we’ve got to get it back,” Ryan said after his selection. “It’s important that we give voters a very clear choice on fiscal policy.” That year, he wrote an alternative budget blueprint that would have trimmed discretionary and entitlement spending and extended all expiring tax cuts, aiming for a balanced budget in 2012. It lost 160-268, which was no surprise in the Democratically controlled House, but he also lost 40 Republican votes.
In late 2008, Ryan helped to almost derail negotiations on a $700 billion bailout of the financial-services industry when he and other fiscal conservatives introduced an alternative plan to the one backed by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Democratic leaders. Eventually, the Democrats included some of his provisions, and he supported the compromise bill. He also voted for the 2008 government bailout of the domestic auto industry, citing “mounting hardships” in his district after two auto factories were shuttered.
Following the Democratic victories in the 2008 election, a Wall Street Journal editorial called for Ryan to challenge Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio, arguing that Ryan’s “economic knowledge and youthful energy make him the best choice to pull his party in a more promising direction.” Some Republican House members encouraged the move as well, but Ryan decided against a challenge. He was the keynote speaker at the 2009 Conservative Political Action Conference, the largest nationwide gathering of conservatives. He also helped write the Republicans’ alternate plan to Obama’s first budget, along with Boehner, Republican Study Committee Chairman Mike Pence of Indiana, and Minority Whip Eric Cantor of Virginia, a close ally of Ryan’s. Ryan and Cantor pushed to include more details about how the Republicans would control spending and trim the deficit, but Boehner disagreed, and he prevailed; the plan was criticized in the press for lacking detail, and the effort was scrapped. In March 2009, Ryan introduced a bill with Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona and Feingold, a friend of Ryan’s despite their philosophical differences, to give the president the power to trim spending earmarks from appropriations bills.
Ryan is considerably more conservative than the balance of his district. As he told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in April 2009, “A lot of guys get to vote how they want, then go home and go fishing. … I’ve got to vote and then go home and explain what I did and why I did it.” Still, Ryan is secure in the seat, having cruised to re-election in 2008 with 64% of the vote, besting McCain’s performance in the district by 17 points. National conservatives have held up his political success as an example for Republicans across the nation. Ryan says he is “not looking to become some famous conservative movement leader” and would rather be “a policy leader,” perhaps chairman of Ways and Means if Republicans retake control of the House. Ryan has often been mentioned as a potential candidate for the Senate, and he has expressed an interest in running if Democratic Sen. Herb Kohl retires in 2012.
An avid sportsman, Ryan co-chairs the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus, the largest bipartisan caucus in the House. He enjoys fishing (walleye and muskie) and hunting, particularly bow hunting, and has been known to send emails from his BlackBerry while waiting in the brush for deer to appear.