ELKHORN — Losing as a vice presidential candidate hasn’t lowered the profile of Janesville’s Paul Ryan.
His lean 6-foot-1-inch frame still casts a lanky shadow over the charts and graphs he casts on screens he uses at his listening sessions.
The crowds haven’t shrunk either. Last spring, during a visit to the Monte Carlo Room his director of communications estimated a crowd of 150.
Last week, as the former Republican vice presidential candidate and current U.S. representative did another session in the same venue, the crowd filled 250 seats with another couple dozen standing.
One questioner was Kelly Freeman, president of the Walworth School Board, who complained about frustration over the state’s Highway 14 plans.
The new route suggested by the state Department of Transportation would change the route of that highway to within 53 feet of Walworth Elementary School. Freeman is concerned with the safety of the children and had recently taken the issue to State Superintendent Tony Evers.
Ryan explained that it was a state issue, which he had no control over. Freeman brought the biggest laugh of the day by responding, “I understand all of that … but you’re Paul Ryan.”
Apparently Ryan doesn’t have the same elevated view of his power. Ryan explained he could email Gov. Scott Walker “but that and $1.50 will buy you a cup of coffee.”
Freeman persisted. “No one listens to us,” she said. Ryan allowed that he’d provide a contact she could use to better communicate her concerns.
Not surprisingly the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, received ample attention at the listening session. One questioner called it the Unaffordable Care Act.
Ryan said it was a “slow moving train wreck” that “won’t survive public opinion.”
“It broke what was working and fixed what didn’t need fixing,” he said.
Ryan said it’s a myth that the GOP has attempted to kill the act 50-some times. He said many of those votes were for changes in the act and that several of those changes President Obama enacted by executive order.
When Ryan was asked why the GOP didn’t have a health care alternative, he said he’d produced alternatives a few years ago but no one seems to remember that.
Not all in the crowd were Ryan fans.
Filming the event was reporter Scott Keys from ThinkProgress.org., who told the Regional News he has covered Ryan at several events. When Ryan appeared in Racine that same day, he used clips on his website of people in the audience extolling the virtues of Obamacare, but Keys ignored two in the Elkhorn crowd who expressed displeasure with the system. Ryan did call on several non-fans who tend to be regular listening session visitors, according to his spokesman. But mostly the crowd was friendly.
One questioner, who was also filming, asked about Ryan’s view on the minimum wage and wondered aloud if the economy would be better off if the rich took “a smaller portion of the pie.”
“It’s not a zero sum game,” Ryan said. “One person’s gain doesn’t come at the expense of someone else’s gain.”
He said the goal should be to increase the size of the pie not redistribute the pieces. Arguing over the size of the pieces creates a “class-based society,” he said.
Increasing the minimum wage would cause hardship on some businesses, especially those who use minimum wage workers. He said his own experience working at a minimum wage job at McDonald’s was valuable.
“A job is the bridge to a better life,” Ryan said.
Both during the listening session and in an interview with the Regional News afterward, Ryan expressed his frustration with the current animosity between the political parties that has made the federal government seemingly dysfunctional.
He used the example of the flak both he and Patty Murray (D-WA) took when they came up with a compromise budget bill recently.
“We both got chewed up by our own sides,” Ryan said.
How did they manage to find a compromise?
“Both Patty and I agreed we wouldn’t ask the other to compromise principals,” he said. “We said ‘let’s find common ground and grab on to that.’”
Ryan said the agreement was “a step in the right direction.”
Both parties, he said, too often impugn each other’s motives. At the root of such animosity, Ryan said, is a tendency to “elevate tactics to the level of principals.”
He acknowledged that he’d “slipped a few times,” too, but indicated a more civil discussion was needed.
In a separate interview with the Regional News, Ryan discussed the apparent split in the Republican party between traditional party members and the Tea Party wing.
What did Ryan make of Tea Party-leaning Rand Paul winning a conservative group’s straw poll and also being applauded at a talk at a liberal college?
Ryan said that in both cases Paul appealed to people’s sense of “liberty.”
“The party is going through a healthy debate right now,” he said.
He said the key was to build on the principals “we all share.”
He listed, “balancing the budget, lowering the deficit, patient-centered health care, lowering tax rates, closing loopholes and crony capitalism.”
Using the example of the budget compromise, Ryan said “prudence” was required. Sometimes people don’t have “patience with prudence,” he said.