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It’s Ryan v. Ryan in Congressional District 1

Democrat Ryan Solen takes on Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan

Oct. 18, 2016
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Since his election to Congress 18 years ago, in a southeastern Wisconsin district that seems to have been drawn in his favor, Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan has typically received token Democratic opposition on Election Day. In the past few election cycles, though, Democrats have offered increasingly serious challenges to Ryan as he’s built a national profile and spent more time out of the district.

This November, Ryan’s re-election bid is a bit more complicated as he faces challenges from his fellow Republicans as well as Democrats. As speaker of the House and Republican Party leader, he’s trying even at this late date to build party unity by showing support for the Republican presidential nominee—Donald Trump. At the same time, though, Ryan is trying to distance himself from the increasingly toxic top of the ticket without outright pulling his endorsement.

Then, too, Ryan is facing a Democrat who is serious about winning on Nov. 8—Ryan Solen.

Computer specialist Ryan Solen is an Iraq war Army veteran who lives in Mount Pleasant with his wife and four children. Solen decided to challenge Ryan last year, before he became House speaker, because he is upset by partisan gridlock in Congress.

“I just want to see our government functioning again,” Solen told the Shepherd. “I think there’s a lot to be said for cooperating with each other. There is plenty of room for bipartisan discussion and bipartisan work to be done.”

Solen is so interested in reaching out to Republicans that he even attended the annual GOP Fall Fest in Walworth County on Saturday, Oct. 8, to hear what those on the other side of the aisle have to say.

Fall Fest made international headlines this year after House Speaker Ryan disinvited Trump following the previous day’s release of a 2005 “Access Hollywood” clip in which Trump bragged about sexually assaulting women. Additional incriminating and abhorrent footage has since come to light, as well as more women accusing Trump of sexually predatory and sexist behavior.

While Ryan hasn’t joined the Republicans pulling their endorsements of Trump, the Janesville Congressman apparently didn’t want to be seen in public at Fall Fest with a sexual predator whose polls numbers were plunging. Ryan, all but signaling Trump’s defeat in November, has since told his fellow GOP-ers that they should focus on saving Congress from a Democratic sweep.

Unlike Trump, Democratic candidate Ryan Solen attended Fall Fest, although he anticipated some hostility. Instead, he said, the Republicans he talked to were “wonderful.” He said the key to productive conversations is not just to explain what he wants to do, but the reasons why as well.

“It seemed really odd to them that I would be interested in their opinions, being a Democrat,” Solen said. “They were intrigued by that. That opened some conversations and got us talking about some things. To me that is the biggest indicator of support. People really do want to work with the other side. It’s not like it’s been hyped up to be, that everyone is against each other.”


Investing in the District

Like his Republican counterpart, Solen wants to cut out wasteful spending in Washington. But unlike the House speaker, Solen wants to reinvest the savings in our future by building up our infrastructure, aiming for universal health care, and making education more affordable, and, perhaps for the first two years of higher education, free of charge.

“I see these things as investments,” Solen said. “It’s not just spending, contrary to what some people will tell you.”

He said that instead of focusing on jobs already shipped overseas to take advantage of cheap labor, he’d work to keep companies in the U.S.—and Wisconsin—by protecting them from bad trade deals and respecting unions. He’s also like to raise the minimum wage, since the current low wage traps people in a cycle of poverty.

“When you’re in that cycle you need just one thing going in your favor to break that cycle so that you can pull yourself up,” Solen said.

Solen, who served in a behavioral health unit in Iraq, said he’s wary of getting involved in future wars, since the cost of war impacts generations of vets and their families.

“Taking care of soldiers after an armed conflict is still part of the war, the cost of war,” Solen said. “That’s why I see that it’s so important that we don’t just jump into an armed conflict at the drop of a hat.”

He said he’s getting support from Republicans who aren’t happy with Ryan’s leadership and his strained relationship with Trump.

“The problem that I see is that he’s not making a decision and he’s hoping that it will go away,” Solen said. “It won’t go away. People are upset and they are going to focus on it until he makes a decision one way or another.”

To learn more about Ryan Solen, go to solenforcongress.com.


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