GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney rolled out his running mate Saturday, Aug. 11, in Virginia. Here are eight things you should know about Paul Ryan, the young, outspoken Congressman from Wisconsin.
(PHOTOS: Paul Ryan’s Life and Career)
He’s not your typical Congressman.
“I’m kind of a homebody,” he told TIME in 2010. “Half the reason I’m not in leadership is because I don’t want to spend my weekends flying around the country campaigning and raising money. I want to spend my weekends at home with my little ones. The other half of the reason — I like policy over politics.”
At the age of 16, Ryan found his father dead of a heart attack at home. Both his grandfather and his great-grandfather died of heart disease in their 50s. Ryan, 42, is a health freak who runs daily grueling P90X classes for members and staff at the congressional gym. He was voted “biggest gym rat” by an anonymous poll of congressional staffers by Washingtonian magazine in 2010. Ryan himself has said his mortality is partly what has limited his ambitions.
He came of age in the fiscal right wing of the GOP.
As a young man, Ryan held numerous amusing summer jobs, including a stint as an Oscar Mayer salesman in which he drove a Wienermobile. He envisioned eventually going to the University of Chicago for an advanced degree in economics and becoming an economist/academic, but he says he “kept getting lured into politics.” He married his two interests by working for Jack Kemp and William Bennett at Empower America, where he learned about supply-side economics — and the politics that go with it. He later worked as a legislative aid to Kansas Senator Sam Brownback, during which time he waited tables and worked as a fitness trainer to make ends meet, before returning to Wisconsin to run for office.
He married into politics but across the aisle.
Ryan’s married to Janna Little Ryan, the niece of former Senator David Boren, an Oklahoma Democrat. Janna has huge family ties to Southern politics. They met while he was a staffer on the Hill. Together they have three children: two boys, ages 7 and 8, and a girl, age 9. Ryan recently began teaching his eldest, Liza, the art of bow-hunting deer. Ryan is also an avid fisherman of walleye and muskie.
He rose through the political ranks quickly.
Elected to his first term in 1998, Ryan vaulted over a dozen more-senior Republicans to become ranking member on the Budget Committee in 2007. (He became chairman when the Republicans won the House at the end of 2010.) Ryan had planned for a long time to produce his own sweeping budget plan, but he lacked the “computer power” to crunch the numbers until he became ranking member. He spent much of 2007 working on what came to be known as his Road Map. Meanwhile, his first alternative budgets, in 2009 and 2010, were test runs for what eventually became a centerpiece of the Republican platform.
His vision for the U.S. is very controversial.
While much of the Tea Party ran in 2010 on a promise to enact Ryan’s plan, the Ryan budget remains contentious. Democrats have attacked it for voucherizing Medicare, and in spring 2011, then presidential candidate Newt Gingrich got himself into trouble with conservatives when he dubbed the plan “radical.” The GOP elite’s championing of the plan showed how the party had moved from the Bush era to the Tea Party era. “I fought for budget-process reforms and was thwarted by leaders in my own party,” Ryan told TIME in a 2009 interview. “I fought for earmark reform and was fought by leaders of my own party. Our party dropped the ball on fiscal issues. That doesn’t mean we should just stop trying for fiscal discipline. We need to reform our own party so that we don’t repeat that mistake.”
He’s less conservative on social issues.
Ryan generally avoids social issues like gay rights, a fact that has sometimes gotten him into trouble with conservative activists. In 2007 he voted for a bill that would ban employment discrimination based on sexual orientation. He explained that his vote was because he had friends “who didn’t choose to be gay … they were just created that way.” He later lamented that he “took a lot of crap” for that stance. He’s also backed versions of the Dream Act, and he voted for the auto bailout — a smart move given his representation of a district that lost nearly 17,000 jobs after GM and Chrysler shuttered facilities there.
He’s from a swing district.
Ryan’s congressional district in southern Wisconsin voted for Dukakis, Clinton and Obama — the latter, 51% to McCain’s 47% in 2008. But Ryan usually wins by large margins; he took 68% of the vote in 2008. The district’s economy is recovering from the Great Recession, as wealthy citizens from Chicago and Milwaukee have flocked to the region’s picturesque lake shores and gentrified urban areas, where lofts and art studios have replaced factories. It remains the home of S.C. Johnson and a few other big manufacturers. Its median annual income is $56,833, and it is 82% white.