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Cullen: Ryan could be influential VP

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Frank Schultz
August 13, 2012

— Tim Cullen recalls the story of Vice President John Nance Garner, who famously described the vice-presidency as being of less value than a bucket of a certain warm bodily fluid.

But that was the 1930s. This is now. Recent vice presidents have tended to have more meaningful roles in presidencies, said Cullen, a politician with historical perspective who happens to come from the same hometown as Paul Ryan.

Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney announced Saturday that Ryan would be his vice president.

If Cullen’s fellow Janesvillian becomes vice president, Ryan could have a lot to say in a Mitt Romney administration, Cullen believes.

Cullen is a Democrat and state senator with long political experience and a tendency to think outside the partisan box. His comments came when he was invited to share his thoughts on Romney’s historic pick and what the future might bring.

Cullen has worked with Ryan on projects such as the task force to save the Janesville General Motors plant. He’s also a close friend of Ryan relative Don Ryan.

Cullen pointed to vice presidents of both parties, such as Walter Mondale and Dick Cheney, who were prominent players in the decisions of their presidents.

George H.W. Bush had a behind-the-scenes role as Ronald Reagan’s vice president, and Joe Biden has been involved with Barack Obama’s decisions, Cullen said.

Ryan, of course, is widely acknowledged as the Republican Party’s chief thinker on fiscal matters, so his input could be greatest in that area.

Win or lose, “I think it changes his (Ryan’s) life forever. He’ll never go back to being a congressman again,” Cullen said.

Vice presidential picks are always considered front-runners for their party’s nomination in later elections, Cullen said, so Ryan could be in the mix for the rest of his political life.

He would be a strong candidate, in part because he’s different from the political “bomb throwers” on the left and the right who are so common today, Cullen said.

“He has positions on issues you can disagree with, but he’s a guy who obviously has views that he has thought out. … He’s trying to do something really different in politics, something that political leaders seldom get credit for, and that’s solving a problem before it’s a disaster,” Cullen said.

Cullen was referring to Ryan’s belief that the country is headed for a Greece-like financial breakdown if it doesn’t control its ballooning debt.

“I don’t think a serious person can look forward and not realize we need to make some changes,” Cullen said, pointing to the long-term solvency issues of Medicare and Social Security. “I think the challenge for my party is, if you don’t like Paul Ryan’s ideas, come up with some better ones.”

Asked what ideas the Democrats should embrace, Cullen said: “That’s really not my field. That’s for the federal guys to deal with. I think in the course of history, the party with ideas tends to be more successful than the party of the status quo. That’s a challenge the Democrats face now.”

Cullen remembers Ryan’s appearance on the local political scene in 1998 and said Ryan will be a formidable campaigner.

“I’ve said this for long time, I think he’s the best new retail politician to emerge in Wisconsin,” Cullen said.

“Retail politician” refers to Ryan’s skills at interacting with people and his common touch, Cullen said.

Cullen said Ryan is the best at that since Russ Feingold, the former U.S. senator and another Janesville native, and Les Aspin, the Democrat who once represented Ryan’s 1st District.



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