Like many Americans, Democrat Ryan Solen says he’s fed up with gridlock in Washington.
He’s trying to do something about it by running for Congress — against House Speaker Paul Ryan.
Solen is aware of the uphill climb that lies ahead.
“There’s not a good track record of unseating sitting speakers,” he said. In fact, the last time was in 1994, and the time before that was in 1860.
Paul Ryan has been elected nine times by the 1st Congressional District. He’s always won by wide margins. His closest election was in 2012, when he beat Democratic challenger Rob Zerban by more than 11 percentage points.
Still, Solen remains optimistic. “I try to keep the view that nothing is really impossible,” he said. “The fact of the matter is that, looking at (Ryan’s) policies, he’s wrong on the issues that matter to constituents. I really think if we get newer people into Congress, we’re going to be able to make some progress going forward.”
Solen, a husband and father of four from Mount Pleasant, served in Iraq as a medic. He holds a master’s degree in international relations. He’s currently employed as a computer security analyst for SC Johnson in Racine.
Since winning the Democratic primary in August, Solen has been canvassing the district door-to-door and, he said, he’s received positive feedback.
“I think that constituents are becoming very positive about my campaign,” he said. “They’re glad that I’m running, and that encourages me, it motivates me.”
Solen supports a single-payer health care system similar to a Medicare-for-all model, but he sees the Affordable Care Act as a step in the right direction.
“Do I think it’s perfect?” Solen asked. “No. But we’ve got to make small steps as well, and I understand that not everyone wants to jump right to single-payer immediately.”
Solen is critical of Ryan’s attacks against the ACA. “The fact of the matter is millions of people now have health insurance thanks to it,” he said.
Solen also wants to see fiscal responsibility in Washington. “I’m looking at hopefully balancing the budget and then trying to pay down the debt to recover some of the interest money that we pay every year,” he said.
Getting things accomplished in Washington requires working across the aisle and Solen said he’s ready to take on the task.
“I want to start building some relationships with all members of Congress,” he said. “That’s going to take some time, but I think we can find some common ground with Republican lawmakers.”
Another policy that’s important to Solen is enacting term limits for lawmakers, just as there are presidential term limits. “Let’s look at senators, who are in office for six years a term,” he said. “Let’s give them two terms as well. … If you look at U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, he’s been in for about 38 years. That’s too long.”
Like so many citizens on both sides of the aisle, Solen believes the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Citizens United, which opened the floodgates of corporate campaign spending, has made it harder for average folks to be heard by elected officials.
“The voices of the wealthy are louder than ours,” he said.
Sticking to his principles, Solen has refused money from corporate PACs and interests.
“I really don’t want to be tied to any corporation,” he said. “I want to be able to look at everything from the perspective of a fresh view.”
Unable to match Ryan’s campaign spending, Solen has challenged the Republican to a debate. He said it’s important for people to hear the two candidates speak. Ryan hasn’t responded to the challenge, although he said during a radio interview that he’d debate Solen closer to the election.
“Paul Ryan will respond to the Koch Brothers, billionaires who are putting millions into the 1st Congressional District on his behalf and given him $119,322 in direct contributions,” Solen’s campaign said in a press statement. “But (he) won’t respond to a simple debate request from his Democratic opponent.”
One question Solen said he’d like to ask Ryan is why the speaker continues to endorse Donald Trump.
“He’s had to call out Trump a few times on some of the things he’s said,” Solen said. “I don’t understand what’s taken him so long to really consider revoking (his endorsement).”
The contest between Solen and Ryan is a David-versus-Goliath battle. But Solen believes Ryan’s support of Trump — as well as constituents’ concerns about health care, Social Security and other issues — might just propel him to victory.