Indian Country Today Media Network’s Rob Capriccioso has dug up a lot of history on Paul Ryan, who has been selected as Mitt Romney’s vice presidential candidate.
It’s been highly publicized that Ryan’s wife may have Native roots, but as Capriccioso points out, his voting policy hasn’t always been Indian friendly.
In his home state, Ryan hasn’t done much work on specific Indian issues while serving in Congress since 1999, but he notably asked the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) during the George W. Bush administration to approve an off-reservation casino for the Menominee Nation. The administration ultimately rejected the plan in January 2009, but the situation showed that Ryan is perhaps a quiet ally of Indian gaming, especially when it comes to the interests of his constituents.
In recent sessions of Congress, he’s voted against the Indian Health Care Improvement Act as part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act; against the Tribal Law and Order Act and the Cobell settlement as part of separate bills; and against some Indian water rights settlements that were part of a relief package for Chile and Haiti earthquake victims. In most cases, his votes against Indian legislation came in instances where such legislation was attached to larger bills that had little or nothing to do with Indian affairs—a growing concern among some tribal advocates who say that Indian issues deserve to be voted on their own merits as stand-alone bills, which would make it easier to understand where legislators truly stand on such issues. This year, he voted in favor of the Helping Expedite and Advance Responsible Tribal Homeownership Act; in favor of the Indian Tribal Trade and Investment Demonstration Project Act; and voted with his party in favor of a Violence Against Women Act reauthorization that failed to include Senate-passed tribal provisions that would increase tribal court jurisdiction authorities, but did allow for a battered Native woman – or a tribe on her behalf – to file in U.S. District Court for a protection order against her alleged abuser, whether Indian or not, who committed the abuse on Indian land.
Some have also questioned whether Ryan’s wife, Janna, really is part Chickasaw. Janna is not an enrolled tribal member.
If Janna Ryan is indeed Native, the situation would seem reminiscent of GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin in 2008, whose husband, Todd is Yup’ik and whose children are Alaska Native Corporation shareholders. Evidence currently supports the notion that, like Palin, Ryan has paid attention to his spouse’s heritage, and it seems to inform at least a small part of his outlook.
What is known for sure is that Janna Ryan’s family has deep roots in Oklahoma’s Democratic and Indian-focused politics, with her first-cousin Rep. Dan Boren, D-Okla., set to become president of corporate development with the Chickasaw Nation at the end of his current term. While Boren is a Democrat, he has put out a statement supporting his cousin, as well as her husband, in the race against President Barack Obama: “Janna and I grew up together and I couldn’t be more proud of my cousin. Like my late mother after whom she is named, Janna is a wonderful parent to their children and will be Paul’s strongest supporter on the campaign trail. Paul has a firm moral compass and has always approached his job as a congressman with diligence and honesty. Having many friends on both sides of the aisle, he is an effective and talented leader. Although we belong in different political parties, I see Paul as a friend, a fellow hunter, and most importantly a family man.”
Will Paul Ryan’s Native voting history sway how you vote in November?