SALT LAKE CITY — When House Speaker Paul Ryan announced he would not seek re-election Wednesday, he touched off a new political power firestorm, but sadly he may have snuffed out any remaining hope for those who are passionate about public policy.
As an admitted policy wonk, the Wisconsin Republican was forever frustrated with a Congress that has become an all-politics-all-the-time operation. Regardless of political persuasion, the impact of losing Paul Ryan is bad for Congress, bad for the country and bad for Utah.
Ryan was never fully comfortable with his political voice, detested fundraising and really hated how it all kept him away from policy and his family in Wisconsin. He was very clear before he reluctantly accepted the speakership that his family would come first, especially on Sundays.
He detested the games of the swamp and may have become another casualty of good legislators losing out to political operatives. Many in the national media have questioned if the speaker’s departure was related to President Donald Trump. If anything, his leaving is more of a reflection on the lack of legislative leadership coming from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the Senate.
The House has passed countless bills, including regular order in the budgeting process, that all have gone to die on the desk of leader McConell. Legislative leaders run out of energy long before they run out of opportunity.
The impact of Ryan leaving will be felt in Utah. The entire delegation enjoyed a positive relationship with the House speaker. Rep. Mia Love had Ryan assigned as her mentor when she arrived in the House as a new member. His influence included wise counsel, support for legislation and guidance in obtaining committee assignments that would utilize Love’s skills while helping the state of Utah.
Rep. Chris Stewart, likewise, has benefited from a relationship with Ryan, where Stewart gained value, built trust and has taken on important committee work.
Ryan’s departure could also impact Utah’s next senator. If Mitt Romney runs the table and wins in November, Ryan, his former presidential running mate, would have been a trusted ally for Romney and an important guide for a new senator transitioning from executive leadership to legislative leadership.
While there are some great thinkers on Capitol Hill, Ryan’s return to Wisconsin means there will be only one true policy entrepreneur in Congress – Utah’s Sen. Mike Lee. A few dabble in policy, usually when it is politically expedient, but Ryan and Lee embody a mindset about the proper role of representatives and senators. Both of them willingly engage with anyone from anywhere on the political spectrum to discuss policy issues and ideas.
The two shared a particularly strong connection when it came to the importance and influence of civil society. Both championed not only free-market economies but getting government out of the way so that families, neighborhoods and communities could solve problems, thrive and grow.
They had conversations about criminal justice reform and ways to make poverty temporary instead of just tolerable. Both recognized that government did have a role to play in caring for those in poverty. To them their job wasn’t just to cut big government, it was to fix broken government.
It was interesting, and surprising to many, that in his first speech as speaker of the House, at the Library of Congress, Ryan chose Lee to introduce him. As speaker he could have chosen anyone to do the honors. Choosing Lee said something about policy.
In the librarian's office just prior to the speech, a reporter asked Ryan if choosing Lee to introduce him was a “tip of the cap” to conservatives. As he walked out the door, Ryan responded by saying that some would take it that way, and others would take it as a shot across the bow of the Senate — a message that he was serious about a policy agenda.37 comments on this story
With a midterm election looming and great uncertainty surrounding the balance of power in the House, there will be a great deal of analysis about the impact of Ryan leaving. His absence could impact congressional races across the country.
If people of policy vision from the left and the right continue leaving Congress left and right, it won’t matter much who the speaker of the House will be. If we don’t elect individuals who will put principle and policy first, we will never build an agenda for a better America that will last.