Around these parts, one of the biggest questions for 2018 may be this one: Will Paul Ryan call it quits in Congress?
Published reports late last week suggested the Janesville congressman — one of America’s most powerful politicians, as speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives — has told intimates he may retire after accomplishing some legislative goals next year. Ryan pushed back, but that’s not surprising. A lame duck speaker is a weak speaker, a condition Ryan would want to avoid.
So don’t expect Ryan — who represented the Beloit area until a redistricting flimflam switched the city into the 2nd Congressional — to make any big announcement soon, even if he does intend to leave Congress. Still, don’t be too surprised if the story is true.
That’s because Paul Ryan always has been a bit of a different breed among politicians.
When he first arrived for a Beloit Daily News interview nearly two decades ago, as a first-time congressional candidate, Ryan already was unusual. First, he didn’t sound like a rookie. This guy knew his stuff in an extremely detailed way. Second, he was refreshingly straightforward and goal-driven, in a way that seemed more earnest than partisan. Third, in a deep discussion he was a man who could see all sides, with a mind agile enough to listen and give consideration for the thoughts of others.
Well, Washington has a way of changing people. Ryan has adjusted to the hardcore partisan standards of the day, and can play that game as well as anybody. He’s not nearly as open as he once was, showing a penchant for doing policy behind closed doors and keeping members from his own party — let alone the opposition — in the dark until just before it’s time to count votes.
And yet one can still see the earnest, goal-oriented kid from Rock County underneath the Washington trappings. Ryan didn’t want the speaker’s job, but took it in order to get something done and try to quell rebellion within his party. He could have run for president — in fact, we’d say odds are strong he could have won the Republican nomination — but showed no interest in 2016. As the most powerful Republican in Congress he could command the news cycle at will. Yet Ryan is not an attention-seeker; he’s a do-er.
He may stay or he may go. Hard to predict. But here’s what we know in Rock County: Ryan takes his family obligations seriously and is especially torn as his children age. He didn’t move his family to Washington; he commutes. That’s tough enough any other year, but as the kids get older and an empty nest comes closer, it gets harder. Ryan doesn’t strike us as the kind of guy who wants to look back and realize he missed it all, just to cling to some office like so many politicians do into their 70s, 80s and beyond.
It’s that kind of genuineness that always made Paul Ryan a rising star in any setting. There is a certain ordinariness about this extraordinary man. He relates. He remembers where he came from. He seems less wrapped up in the “Grand Cult of Me” than others in his chosen profession.
That’s not to say we think Ryan is always right or we’ve never taken issue with one of his stands.
It is to say we think Paul Ryan is a good person, and heaven knows that’s what America desperately needs in public office.
So, if Ryan stays, good for him. And good for America.
And if Ryan goes, good for him. And good for America, demonstrating that walking away from power when one feels they’ve done what they set out to do is still possible — and honorable.