University of Wisconsin Regent Bryan Steil on Sunday launched his campaign for House Speaker Paul Ryan’s congressional seat, touting himself as a “problem solver” who would take on the political establishment.
Steil, a member of a powerful Janesville political family with close ties to Ryan, said he would use his experience as an attorney for manufacturing companies to represent the southeastern Wisconsin district in Congress.
“The chattering class in Washington gets paid to identify problems. For the past nine years, in manufacturing, I got paid to solve problems,” Steil said at a campaign event at Performance Micro Tool in Janesville. “I want to take my problem-solving skills to Congress. I think they need problem solvers, doers… not talkers.”
The 37-year-old Janesville native, a former Ryan staffer, serves as the general counsel to a Milton manufacturer of packaging materials, Charter NEX Films. He was appointed to the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents in 2016 by Gov. Scott Walker.
Steil launched his bid just over a week after Ryan, who’s served in Congress for 20 years, announced he wasn’t seeking re-election and would retire at the end of the year. He praised his former boss during his announcement as a “hard-working, selfless” public servant.
“Two and a half years ago, Paul Ryan made us all proud by taking the gavel becoming speaker of the House. Next year, Paul will hand the gavel to someone new. We cannot let Nancy Pelosi take it back,” Steil said.
Steil, a Janesville native, was one of a handful of names to emerge as a possible GOP candidate. But the others — including former White House chief of staff Reince Priebus and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos — quickly declined to run.
Steil on Sunday tried to distance himself from career politicians.
“Washington needs problem solvers who are not afraid to take on the tough issues. I am ready to fight with everything I have,” he said. “So today, I offer you my talents, experience and service.”
George Steil, Bryan’s grandfather, was appointed by former Gov. Tommy Thompson as the first chair of the Wisconsin Lottery Board. He also served as a UW Regent.
Steil joins a Republican field that includes controversial candidate Paul Nehlen and Nick Polce, an Army veteran from Lake Geneva. Nehlen lost to Ryan by 68 percentage points in the GOP primary in 2016.
In February, Nehlen was booted from Twitter after he tweeted an image that replaced the image of Meghan Markle, the biracial fiancée of Prince Harry, with a dark-skinned prehistoric Briton known as “Cheddar Man.” That was a month after he drew heavy criticism for posting phone numbers, email addresses and names of his critics, claiming most of them were Jewish.
Another GOP candidate is Jeremy Ryan, a liberal who frequently rode a Segway around the Capitol during the 2011 protests in Madison.
Democratic candidates in the race include ironworker Randy Bryce and Janesville School Board member Cathy Myers.
Bryce’s campaign wasted no time slamming Steil as an out-of-touch political insider.
“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 campaign spokeswoman Lauren 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 health care.”
Myers also chimed in on Steil’s announcement.
“Voters don’t want another rubber stamp in Washington; they want a representative who will fight for them,” she said, adding, “I am encouraged by Bryan Steil’s willingness to have a real conversation about the issues. I look forward to debating and letting voters decide who can best represent their values in Congress.”