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  1. Florida Politics

Paul Ryan's mother, a Florida resident, feared he'd be a ski bum

Published Aug. 14, 2012

WASHINGTON — Newly minted vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan, confronting charges he is trying to dismantle Medicare, pulled the mother of all cards Sunday on 60 Minutes.

"My mom is a Medicare senior in Florida," he said, insisting his reform plan is to strengthen the program.

Betty Ryan Douglas, who turned 78 last week, lives at least part time in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, a small beachside town in Broward County. A Republican, she has been registered to vote in Florida since 1997. She does not appear to have voted in Wisconsin in some time, according to officials there.

"She is a very nice woman, nice family woman. Very bright, very alert," said Rosina Ventre, a neighbor. Ryan Douglas doesn't introduce herself as the congressman's mother, but Ventre said she saw Ryan visit her there.

Mrs. Douglas' first husband died of a heart attack when Paul Ryan was a teen, and he discovered the body in their Wisconsin home.

"That was probably the biggest single event that shaped my life," Paul Ryan told the Wisconsin State Journal in 2008. "You do a lot of growing up really fast when you have that situation. I decided not to wallow in self-pity, so I ran for junior class president at Janesville Craig High School. I focused on my grades and succeeding in sports to make him proud. Before he died, I was a carefree kid who was worried if the musky I caught was legal or not, or whether the girl I liked liked me."

His mother went back to school to study interior design. She got a professional license in Florida in 1996, records show.

A 2009 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article described Mrs. Douglas as "an outdoors enthusiast who led her husband and four kids on regular trips to hike and ski in the Colorado Rockies."

Her second husband, a Navy veteran and insurance executive, died in 2002.

It was Paul Ryan's mother who helped push him off the ski slopes and into politics. From Wisconsin Interest magazine:

"Upon graduation, he headed to Oxford, Ohio, to attend Miami University. (Twenty-three years later, he would return to give the commencement speech.) His junior year, Ryan took an internship with Wisconsin Sen. Bob Kasten's foreign affairs adviser. Ryan says he spent more time opening mail than working on the study of Soviet containment, but it got his foot in the door when a real internship with Kasten's small-business committee opened up over the summer.

"Ryan returned to classes in the fall for his senior year. Two weeks in, he got a call from Cesar Conda, Kasten's staff director. Conda confided that the committee's staff economist was leaving the following May. Would Ryan take the job after he graduated for one-third of the salary?

"Ryan wasn't sure . . . until Betty Ryan gave him a tongue-lashing. She feared her son was destined to become a ski bum. The Kasten post led Ryan to a job with two of the GOP smartest thinkers, Jack Kemp and Bill Bennett, at Empower America, then as Sen. Sam Brownback's legislative director."

Conda may be familiar to Florida politicos. He's now chief of staff for Sen. Marco Rubio.

Rubio, who was considered for the vice presidential spot, campaigned with Romney on Monday and is headed to Texas for a fundraiser in San Antonio on Wednesday. He also sent out an email solicitation calling Ryan a "courageous reformer."

"I got to know Paul during my Senate campaign when he endorsed me early on when I was still considered a long shot," Rubio wrote.

Times researcher Carolyn Edds and Miami Herald reporter Amy Sherman contributed to this report. Alex Leary can be reached at leary@tampabay.com.

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