On Saturday, Mitt Romney named 42-year-old US Representative Paul Ryan as his running mate, and while the ensuing news cycle was flooded with related stories, we were struck by a few that mentioned Ryan as not being very well known. Well, let’s hold it a minute. The beauty of being a magazine for and about Washington is that we meet a lot of up-and-comers well before they step onto the national stage. Ryan is a good example. Let us take you back 16 years, to when he was working on the Hill. In 1996 Juliet Eilperin wrote a Washingtonian article called “Young Guns,” which featured Ryan as one of ten people under 35 making a difference in Washington. Two years later he was elected to Congress from Wisconsin’s first congressional district.
PAUL RYAN, 26, Legislative Director to Representative Sam Brownback
Paul Ryan, 26-year-old legislative director to Republican Congressman Sam Brownback of Kansas, is busy eating fries and poring over résumés. Brownback’s decision to battle appointed Senator Sheila Frahm, a fellow Republican, for Bob Dole’s Senate seat had already caused Ryan to put in long hours finding replacements for aides like Brownback’s chief of staff, who left to head the campaign. Now that Brownback has won the primary, the hours aren’t getting any shorter.
Congress is not foreign territory to Ryan—he worked in the upper chamber briefly for Wisconsin Senator Bob Kasten until Kasten lost his reelection bid—but the Wisconsin native says he is happier with the pace of the House. Like many other influential policy aides, Ryan spent his time after Kasten’s defeat in exile at a couple of conservative think tanks—first at the Alexis de Tocqueville Institution, then as a policy analyst for Jack Kemp at Empower America. He has continued to focus on financial concerns for Brownback, a member of the Budget Committee.
Ryan’s strength, according to Kemp, is that he is “an activist conservative, not a stick-in-the-mud conservative.” It’s an activism well suited to Brownback, who supported an unsuccessful effort to abolish four Cabinet departments.
All the GOP agitation occasionally surprises even Ryan, who at times sounds like the village elder among a group of rebels. “These freshmen toss out grenades, then throw themselves on them” he says, reflecting on this last session’s upheaval. Though he did not expect to win all the battles, Ryan insists that the 73 Republicans who first took office in 1995 have achieved substantial progress. “We’ve shifted the terms of the debate,” he says, noting that proposing to kill a Cabinet department makes it a lot easier to trim its budget.
This article originally ran in the November 1996 issue of The Washingtonian. See the full PDF.