Election 2020

Paul Ryan's Former Driver Climbs Behind Wheel in Bid to Replace Retiring Speaker

Attorney Bryan Steil, right, a former driver for House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), talks to people gathered at a news conference where he announced he is running to succeed Ryan in Congress on April 22, 2018, in Janesville, Wis. (Jake Magee/The Janesville Gazette via AP)

Wisconsin Republicans are “terrified,” said Democratic Party of Wisconsin Chair Martha Laning when she heard Bryan Steil was running for the GOP nomination to replace Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) in Congress.

“(Republicans) have seen the enthusiasm from Democrats and backlash against their regressive policies and realize that no seat is safe,” said Laning.

“The extreme agenda of Paul Ryan, Donald Trump and Scott Walker is so toxic that Republicans struggled to find someone to run for a seat that’s been red for two decades,” added Laning.

Bryan Steil may be nothing but a “B-List” candidate, according to a Democratic Party of Wisconsin press release, but he is also Wisconsin Republicans’ best hope to keep the state’s 1st Congressional District seat in the GOP column.

Steil, a former staffer and driver for Ryan, announced his candidacy Sunday to replace the retiring speaker of the House.

“Two and a half years ago, Paul Ryan made us all proud by taking the gavel becoming speaker of the House,” Steil said. “Next year, Paul will hand the gavel to someone new. We cannot let Nancy Pelosi take it back.”

Steil said his nine years of experience in manufacturing, as an attorney for Charter NEX Films in Milton, Wis., taught him “too often our own federal government gets in the way; puts up unnecessary roadblocks.”

“The chattering class in Washington gets paid to identify problems. For the past nine years, in manufacturing, I got paid to solve problems,” Steil added. “I want to take my problem-solving skills to Congress. I think they need problem solvers, doers… not talkers.”

Wisconsin Republicans have to hope that’s inspiring enough for GOP voters and independents come November.

Steil wasn’t the Wisconsin Republican Party’s first choice.

Former RNC Chairman and White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus declined to run for the 1st District seat, as did former state Rep. Michelle Litjens and Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos.

So, Wisconsin Republicans find themselves left with Bryan Steil, who is also a University of Wisconsin regent.

Cathy Myers, one of two candidates in the Wisconsin Democratic First District primary, said Steil’s place on the UW Board of Regents is another reason Wisconsin voters should cast a ballot for anyone but him.

“Scott Walker’s handpicked Board of Regents is dismantling the UW System. Voters don’t want another rubber stamp in Washington,” Myers said.

Myers, who has been teaching in public schools for 24 years, said she was motivated to run for Congress by the appointment of Betsy DeVos as the nation’s education secretary.

“As a UW Regent, Bryan Steil has a duty to protect public education, but like Betsy DeVos, he’s using his appointment to undermine our public school system and the Wisconsin idea that education is about solving problems and improving the health, environment, and quality of life in our society,” Myers added.

Randy Bryce, known as “Iron Stache” and seen as the front-runner in the Democratic 1st District primary, tweeted his disdain for Steil’s claim to understand the plight of Wisconsin’s working class.

“Paul Ryan’s former driver, corporate attorney, and #WI01 @GOP candidate, has spent his time as an attorney helping companies outsource jobs and destroy plants like Janesville GM,” Bryce wrote on his Twitter page. “He doesn’t represent our working families.”

Lauren Hitt, communications director for the Bryce campaign, said Steil was an associate general counsel for Regal Beloit when the manufacturer closed a Midwest factory and moved 300 jobs to Mexico.

“It’s hard to think of anyone less in touch with the struggles facing working families than a third-generation corporate attorney from a politically connected family,” said Hitt. “A former Ryan staffer and a current Walker appointee, Bryan Steil is part of the institutional Republican swamp that believes we should give tax breaks to the wealthy and pay for it by attacking working people’s retirements and healthcare.”

Before taking on either Bryce or Myers in November, Steil has to prove himself to be enough of a candidate to defeat five other Republican candidates in the GOP August primary, chief among them Paul Nehlen, the candidate branded as an “anti-Semite” and “white supremacist” by Democrat Myers.

Twitter suspended Nehlen’s account in February after he posted what was described as a racist tweet about Prince Harry’s fiancee Meghan Markle. The offensive tweet included a picture of an ancient black Briton, the Cheddar Man, superimposed onto an image of Markle with the caption, “Honey, does this tie make my face look pale?”

Nehlen, who was defeated with just 16 percent of the vote to Ryan’s 84 percent in the 2016 primary, has also posted lists of his Jewish foes.

Ryan’s campaign made it clear when the 1st District congressman announced he would not seek re-election that the last thing Wisconsin voters should do was to vote for Nehlen.

“There are many qualified conservatives who would be effective representatives for Wisconsin’s 1st Congressional District, and Paul Nehlen isn’t one of them,” said Kevin Seifert, the head of Ryan’s political operation.

“His bigoted rhetoric and his reprehensible statements should disqualify him from holding any public office,” Seifert added, “and we are confident voters in southern Wisconsin feel the same way.”

Before Steil’s announcement, Wisconsin GOP voters were faced with a choice between Nehlen, former Green Beret Nick Polce, applications enginee Kevin Adam Steen or Jeremy Ryan, who, AP reported, is known as a liberal protester in Madison often seen riding his Segway.

Myers said there was one reason to be pleased with Steil’s decision to run for Congress.

“Honestly, I am just relieved,” Myers said, “that an anti-Semite white supremacist (Nehlen) is no longer the frontrunner for the Republican nomination.”