Guest Column

Paul Ryan: What kind of leader is he?

December 11, 2015
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At the tender age of 45, new U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan is one of the youngest men to hold the position of the 54th Speaker of the House (elected Oct. 29 after weeks of discussion), and he is third in line for the presidency behind Joe Biden.

For several weeks now, all eyes have been on his meteoric rise in Republican Party leadership, first as a kid congressman in 1999, as chairman of the House Budget Committee in 2011, as Mitt Romney’s running mate in 2012, and as Ways and Means chairman (2015).

Many people have asked me, what is Paul Ryan like? What kind of leader will he be? Will he be a diehard conservative (evidenced by his opposition to immigration legislation), a libertarian (evidenced by his interest in Ayn Rand novels), or a moderate consensus-builder in the model of John Boehner (evidenced by his work with Democratic Senator Patty Murray in achieving the Bi-Partisan Budget Act of 2013).

I can certainly identify with his Midwestern, Irish background. He is a child of the ’70s (born in January 1970) and represents a new generation in national leadership. He has been a striver since high school, serving as student body president, participating in various sports and even finding time to flip burgers at McDonalds.

When he was fresh out of college, he worked for Sen. Bob Kasten (R-Wisconsin) and worked as a waiter at a local Mexican restaurant. After Kasten lost in 1992, he received a conservative education at FreedomWorks (now Empower America) with such mentors as Jack Kemp.

Some people say he is a regular guy like John Boehner, continuing to pursue outdoor activities while in Wisconsin and going to the House gym in D.C. But much more is expected of him, and these next few weeks will be critical to discovering the kind of leader he is.

I see him as someone who will reach out to his colleagues, even those who may not agree with his essentially conservative principles. The fractured GOP could derail him, but he has put together an advisory group that will include members of the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus (those who ultimately ousted Boehner), the Republican Study Committee (mainstream conservatives), and the dwindling numbers of moderates in the Tuesday Group.

He has been open about allowing amendments to the Highway Bill, a critical issue to West Michigan, and has encouraged brainstorming sessions with his colleagues on a variety of issues. He even introduced what are essentially “crowd-sourced ideas” according to Roll Call Magazine for funding the government.

Most important of all, I believe, is the sort of team he puts in place. Ryan is young but already has a huge amount of experience. His leadership team consists of more than 40 individuals, from the chief of staff on down to staff assistants. It should be noted the top seven or eight people on his staff have at least 20 to 30 years of experience on Capitol Hill and Washington.

Here’s a look: COS David Hoppe has more than 20 years with other Congressional offices as well as K Street and private practice; Policy Director Augustine Smith has more than 20 years of Hill experience with Ryan, other Congressional offices and other government/private agencies; Director of House Operations Kelly Craven has experience with Ryan and Boehner, as well as other government and private agencies; Legislative Ops Director Joe-Marie St. Martin Green is a longtime Boehner and Congressional  fixture; Deputy COS Joyce Yamat Meyer has 15 years with Ryan and other members.

This experience and brain-power means a lot when getting down to the real leadership test of passing a FY2016 budget, getting the transportation bill passed, and addressing any number of crises our nation will inevitably face in the years ahead.

This leadership is also essential when negotiating with the Senate and White House. It is also essential to have a hard worker like Ryan in that position. As NFL announcer Jon Gruden would say about determined players on Monday Night Football, he is a constant “churner” who gets the job done.

It will be interesting to see if this “churner” can live up to the gargantuan task ahead.

Grand Rapids native Steve Carey is president of Potomac Strategic Development Co. in Washington, D.C.

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