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Some Constituents Sad, Others Happy to See Ryan Retire

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Wisconsin’s Paul Ryan rocked the political world on Wednesday when the House Speaker announced he will not seek reelection in November. Ryan has held the seat that covers parts of southeastern Wisconsin for nearly 20 years and plans to finish out his term. He says he’s retiring with “no regrets.”

It means the race for the 1st congressional district is wide open this fall. Voters, elected officials and potential candidates weighed in on Ryan’s legacy – and what’s next.

Many people awoke to the news that Ryan would be retiring. He made his formal announcement mid-morning, and says he made his decision based on what is best for his family. Ryan and his wife Janna have three teenagers.

“Some of you know my story. My dad died when I was 16, the age my daughter is and I just don’t want to be one of those people looking back on my life thinking, I spend more time with my kids, when I know if I spend another term, they’ll only know me as a weekend father,” Ryan says.

Ryan dismisses the idea of a blue wave sweeping Wisconsin and the country -- and says the headwinds facing Republicans in November didn’t play a factor in his decision. He says he’s proud of his accomplishments.

“You realize that you hold the office for just a small part of our history so you’d better make the most of it. It’s fleeting, and that inspires you to do big things, and on that score I think we’ve achieved a heck of a lot,” Ryan says.

Ryan didn’t talk about his future plans, although some have speculated that he may run for president in 2020. He was a vice presidential candidate in 2012, on a ticket with Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.

Shortly after the announcement, accolades started pouring in. President Trump called Ryan a “truly good man, who will leave a legacy of achievement that nobody can question.” Gov. Walker thanked Ryan for his “deep dedication” to Wisconsin and the country.

WUWM's Marti Mikkelson and Ann-Elise Henzl discuss Paul Ryan's reasons for not seeking reelection, as well as what his departure means for this fall's elections.

We spoke with a couple of Ryan’s constituents at the Drexel Square shopping center in Oak Creek. Maurice Benner of Cudahy works as an engineer and says he voted for Ryan in 2016 and is sad to see him go.

“I wish him luck and I think he served the government faithfully for the public, lowering taxes and just being honest and forthright with people,” Benner says.

But, others we talked to are pleased that Ryan is retiring, including warehouse manager James Gibson of Greendale.

“I don’t like what he’s done with the state or any of the other Republicans in this state and I’m happy to see him gone and would like to see a change,” Gibson says.

Gibson says he doesn’t think Ryan did much to help people in low paying jobs. Voters like Gibson likely will have many more choices at the polls this fall than they’ve had in Ryan’s tenure.

Christopher Murray teaches political science at Marquette University’s Les Aspin Center for Government. He thinks now that Ryan is out, the race for his seat may see a flurry of candidates who otherwise wouldn’t have run.

“He has a history of winning his district quite easily, even in more difficult years for Republican candidates but now with his retirement, it creates an open seat and open seats are always more competitive for the party that didn’t hold it going into the election,” Murray says.

Before Ryan made his announcement, two Democrats were looking to unseat him – including iron worker Randy Bryce who announced his candidacy last summer. His campaign says: “Ryan decided to quit, rather than face Randy Bryce and the voters.”

The other Democrat in the race is Janesville school teacher Cathy Myers. She says, “Paul Ryan is running away from the harm his policies have caused.”

On the Republican side, Paul Nehlen, who threw his hat into the ring last year, says Ryan has a list of accomplishments but he can improve on them. And, three lesser known candidates have announced their intention to run as Republicans -- primaries will be held in August.

WUWM's Marti Mikkelson talked to Marquette Law School Poll Director Charles Franklin about what Paul Ryan's decision not to seek reelection means for the race for the Ryan's House seat.

Marti was a reporter with WUWM from 1999 to 2021.
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