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Floyd & Mary Beth Brown: What you don’t know about Janna Ryan may surprise you

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opinion Bemidji, 56619
Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

While the nation is getting to know Paul Ryan better since his selection as Romney’s running mate, it’s time they become acquainted with his mate of 14 years, wife Janna Ryan.

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With her sunny personality, friends describe her as very sharp, down-to-earth and a good complement to husband. Not only that, the Ryans share a love of the outdoors.

“Janna has been the definition of balance of Paul,” Wisconsin state Sen. Dave Craig, former congressional staffer for Ryan, told ABC News. “She has always been Paul’s rock to make sure he’s grounded.”

A mutual friend introduced the Ryans to each other at a party in Washington, D.C., in 1999. Before that, Janna Ryan grew up in a tiny town in Oklahoma. She is a small-town girl at heart but is accustomed to politics and the nation’s capital, working as a tax attorney, lobbyist and congressional staffer.

Janna Ryan, 43, majored in Spanish at Wellesley College. “I can’t imagine there would be a single person at Wellesley who had (a) bad interaction with her,” Pia Thompson, president of the class of 1991, told Yahoo News. “She was honestly the nicest person there. I don’t know if it was her Oklahoman sensibility ... she was an absolute sweetheart, always with a smile, always with a hello to anybody.”

Her first job in Washington after graduating cum laude in 1991 was as a legislative aide to former Oklahoma Rep. Bill Brewster, a Blue Dog (conservative) Democrat. Like both her parents, Janna became a lawyer, receiving her J.D. from George Washington University Law School by taking night classes. To add to her litany of accomplishments, Janna is a stay-at-home mother to Liza, 10, Charlie, 8, and 7- year- old Sam. In a family photo from Paul’s Facebook page, the happy family is casually dressed in matching Wisconsin Green Bay Packers sweatshirts.

Unlike many congressional members, the Ryans raise their children in his Wisconsin congressional district, living in a brick colonial home on the same block where Paul, 42, grew up. They want their children to have the same type of childhood that they had growing up, including a backyard in a small town with other family members nearby. The family attends the local Catholic church. Besides raising her family and supporting her husband, Janna is a member of a book club and enjoys gardening.

In an article about them in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in 2010, Paul Ryan spoke of the time they shared a deer stand and Janna spotted the buck he shot on opening day of hunting season. When he proposed to her, it was at one of his favorite fishing spots, Big St. Germain Lake in Wisconsin. The Ryans married in December 2000.

During a recent speech in Oklahoma, according to a state political blog, CapitolBeatOK, the new vice presidential candidate joked that he and his family visit the state “three times a year — deer season, duck season and turkey season.” For some reason, he said, “Janna refers to our visits as Christmas, Easter and Thanksgiving.”

Friends say Mrs. Ryan stays current on policy issues and is very knowledgeable of Paul’s political beliefs and economic ideas. “The core identity of the country is now at stake,” Ryan told CapitolBeatOK in an interview. “We don’t want or need socialist democracy. All of us who agree on fundamental principles of freedom, limited government, personal responsibility and government accountability must band together. We have to reapply ourselves to the struggle for freedom and the things that come with it.”

Janna shared another side of her husband in her first interview after Romney’s announcement with People magazine. “You know, he’s pretty low-maintenance,” said Janna. “Paul is someone who goes with the flow and has one of the sunniest demeanors and most positive outlooks of anyone I’ve ever met.”

The same could be said about Janna. At one of her first campaign appearances, Janna wore a dress from Kohl’s. “She’s very low-maintenance and very modest,” said a friend from Washington, D.C., Jodi Bond.

Another friend of Janna’s for more than 20 years, Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), says, “She is comfortable talking to people at the Sand Bass Festival one day and having dinner with the governor the next. There’s no stiffness to her. No awkwardness.”

Maybe Janna grounds Paul so well because she is so down to earth and grounded herself.

Floyd and Mary Beth Brown can be contacted at cari@cagle.com.

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