U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan speaks to students at Badger High School on Friday. Ryan answered students’ questions, and the purpose of his visit, said Badger Principal Russ Tronsen, was to educate students about the federal government and Ryan’s role, not political matters. (Michael S. Hoey photo)

By Michael S. Hoey


Speaker of the House Paul Ryan visited with social studies classes at Lake Geneva Badger High School on May 12. The House of Representatives was on recess last week, and Ryan spends recesses in his home district meeting with constituents, he said.

When asked how Badger High School was selected for this visit, Press Secretary Ian Martorana said Ryan makes a point to visit a variety of schools within the First District. He did not say specifically how Badger was chosen for the visit.

Ryan also made a stop at Geneva Supply in Delavan on Friday.

At Badger, all social studies classes during seventh period attended a question-and-answer session in the auditorium during which Ryan answered questions submitted by students earlier in the week. The focus of the questions was the operation of the federal government and the role of the Speaker of the House.

Before the event began, a student council welcoming committee welcomed Ryan to Badger where he was served “five-star” desserts prepared by Badger’s culinary arts program and was presented with custom trinkets made by the technical education classes. The Badger choir and orchestra welcomed Ryan with a rendition of “America the Beautiful” at the beginning of the session.

Ryan introduced himself and explained his dual role in Congress. Ryan said he represents about 750,000 people in the First District in Wisconsin, and that group of people is about evenly split between Republicans and Democrats. He told the students that is not always the case. Many places in the country are made up of one party or the other. Wisconsin, he said, is not like that.

Ryan said he has two jobs – work to represent the First District and work to run Congress in his role as Speaker of the House. He compared himself to a traffic cop in that he must make sure all the committees in the House are doing their jobs, and he must make sure legislation is getting passed on the day’s big issues. Ryan said the nation is facing huge issues right now including health care and tax reform, the economy, the military, government regulations and foreign policy.

Ryan also said family is important to him and he said that he still lives in Janesville on the same block he grew up on and his children attend Janesville-area schools.

Senior Cassidy Giese asked the first question. She wanted to know how Ryan balances his time between his home district and his duties in Washington, D.C., and if that balance has changed since he became Speaker. Ryan said the balance has not changed. He also said the Speaker position was not a job he sought but was one that was thrust upon him by his colleagues. Ryan said he makes a point to be home every weekend to spend time with his family.

Senior Cayleen Ryan, no relation, though the Speaker did notice the last name, asked what Ryan thinks is the best way for Congress to influence foreign policy. Ryan said there were two main ways – funding and oversight. He said funding is the biggest influence Congress can have over foreign policy but oversight is important as well to be sure the executive branch is doing what Congress has authorized.

Ryan went on to discuss the importance of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and its role in keeping watch over Russia.

“I would argue that Russia is just as aggressive these days as they have been in the past,” Ryan said. “It is important for members of NATO to strengthen each other, and we need to follow NATO commitments to stand up to Russian aggression.

“Learn, pass laws, fund—that’s how you affect foreign policy,” Ryan said.

Junior Jennifer Clary asked what determines which bills are taken up in the House. Ryan said some that are supported by more than two-thirds of the body can go directly to the floor for a vote. Others must go through committee and survive a vote there before making it to the floor. Ryan said the House passed an important bill the week before – a funding bill that kept the government running.

Senior Alexis Wisdom asked how the government can reconcile liberty and security during the war on terror. Ryan said if the government is going to err one way or the other, it should be on the side of liberty. If you lose a liberty, he said, you might never get it back.

Ryan said terrorists are getting more and more sophisticated with technology and dealing with that is and will continue to be a big challenge. Another challenge is that while we have very clear laws here in America, when the government chases terrorists in other countries, the laws are not so clear. He also said after 9/11 it is clear a “firewall” exists between the Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation when it came to sharing information that had to come down.

Sophomore Cameron Clinkingbeard asked what advice Ryan has for high school students to be successful in life. Ryan got some laughs when he advised the students to do their homework and not procrastinate. Then he said he was serious about not waiting until the last minute to get things done. He also said respecting the opinions of others is important.

“There are going to be people who do not agree with you. They are not bad people,” he said. “That is something we need to learn more in Washington.”

Ryan encouraged the students to treat others civilly, respect the opinions of others, and don’t use emotion to make decisions. He told them to use facts, reason and research. If one bases decisions on emotion, that person will not make a good case or be able to be open to having someone else change their opinion.

“You can’t communicate effectively if you don’t try to listen and sense their point of view before absorbing it with yours and then try to persuade the person to your point of view,” Ryan said. “We all need to do a better job being more civil with one another. Your generation can set the tone.”

Returning to his theme about not waiting to the last minute to get things done, Ryan said having a good temperament and good time management will lead to success in life. He encouraged the students to figure out what they want to do, set their eyes on it, and go do it.

“The cool thing about this country is that you can do what you want with your life,” he said. “Most people in the world do not have that kind of opportunity.”

Ryan told them not to take their blessings for granted.

Junior Carson Hillier asked what the significance of the Tenth Amendment was in a time during which the federal government seems to be exerting more and more authority. Ryan said the Tenth Amendment is one reason he is a conservative. He said the Tenth Amendment says the power should be left to the states and individuals, and he does not like the cookie-cutter approach that results when the federal government micromanages things when local people could do a much better job solving problems. He said that kind of approach stifles creativity and innovation.

Ryan said Congress has been debating this very issue with health care reform. He said Wisconsin had a very good health care program before the Affordable Care Act was passed and he thinks health care in Wisconsin has gotten worse since.

“You have to get people involved at the local level eye to eye, soul to soul, person to person,” Ryan said. “The Tenth Amendment captures that spirit.”

Junior Sonny Lonigro asked the final question. He asked how Ryan is able to get people with different political ideologies to work together. Ryan said he was still working on that and added that it is difficult enough getting people in his own party to work together.

“You have to get them talking to each other so they can get different perspectives,” Ryan said. “At the end of the day, we may disagree, but we need to get to understand each other and find common ground.”

Ryan said it is like a Venn diagram, and it is all about finding the places the circles overlay. The key is to find the things both sides agree on and make progress on those things.

“We won’t know what those things are until we get people to talk to each other and understand different perspectives,” Ryan said.

Ryan said the country is very polarized and Congress reflects that. He said when compromising, people have to realize they aren’t always going to get everything they want. One might have to settle for making steps in the right direction. He said two-thirds of what gets passed in Congress this year will be bi-partisan but the nation will not hear about that because that is not what is popular to report.

Ryan ended by saying, “Sometimes you agree to disagree, but let’s do it in a civil way.”


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