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JANESVILLE — Congressman-elect Bryan Steil’s plan was to take it easy on Christmas Eve, spending time with family at his grandmother’s house in Janesville.

With 10 nieces and nephews, the holiday season is more about the kids than the grown-ups.

“There’s nothing more fun than to watch kids get excited and open presents on Christmas Eve,” Steil, 37, said in an interview with The Journal Times the week before Christmas.

In the past several months, Steil went from being a private citizen and member of the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents, to Republican congressional candidate and is now preparing for a new title — congressman.

On Jan. 3, Steil will be sworn in as the new representative for Wisconsin’s 1st Congressional District, a seat held for the past 20 years by House Speaker Paul Ryan, who is retiring from public office.

Ryan campaigned with Steil and was with him briefly on Election Night in November before the results came in. After the results were official, Ryan called Steil to congratulate him.

“We had a conversation really focused on what an honor and privilege it is to serve people here in southeastern Wisconsin,” Steil said. “The other thing we’ve always talked about is, there’s some people who go in (to Congress) to be somebody and there’s other people who go and get the work done, to try to get things done. So I’m looking forward to trying to take the latter approach, which I think is what Paul has done very well.”

As he prepares to follow in Ryan’s footsteps, since being elected Steil said he’s been working at the pace at which he was campaigning to make sure he is ready once he is sworn in.

“I’m still optimistic that there’s an ability to shift some of the tone,” Steil said. “I’m looking forward to coming in and bringing a private-sector background and different approach.”

Meeting other freshman congressmen

Since being elected, Steil went to Washington with 89 other freshman members of Congress for a two-week orientation.

During those two weeks, Steil said he met his fellow colleagues and began to form relationships with both Democrats and Republicans.

“Sometimes during the campaign process, TV advertising can paint a person one way or another,” Steil said. “When you boil it down, the vast majority of people that I met in the freshman class are there for the right reasons. They believe in the country and they believe we need to put policies in place to advance it.

“Now, that doesn’t mean we won’t disagree on the best way to do that, but the overwhelming majority of people I met are really there for right reasons to do the right thing.”

When Steil is sworn in, he’ll be in the minority and Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi from California more than likely will be the next speaker of the House.

Steil said he is willing to work with Pelosi and Democrats to pass legislation.

“A lot of it is going to be in her hands and how she’s willing to work with Republicans,” Steil said. “I stand ready and willing to work with anybody. And if you look at areas that are really nonpartisan areas where we should be able to come together to get things done.”

Working on issues

Steil said he plans to tap into his experience in education with the Board of Regents and in the private sector as an attorney for a manufacturing company to focus on workforce development and student financial aid.

“I think we need to spent time to make sure we have the federal programs properly aligned such that individual school boards and local decision makers are able to work to prepare workers for the jobs of the future,” Steil said. “I think that’s critical in Racine, in particular, as you look at Foxconn and other large companies coming to the I-94 corridor. We need to make sure that everyone is able to take advantage of the opportunity of the economic growth in our area.”

Steil said student financial aid has been “a real mess over a number of years.”

“I think there are opportunities to figure out a way to revise student financial aid and programs similar to that,” Steil said. “Some of these issues aren’t partisan at all. They’re just ideas that we need to advance to get things done on behalf of the American people.”

Although he has not yet met President Donald Trump, when he gets his chance, Steil said he plans to focus the conversation on the economy.

“When I speak with the president, it will be about how do we really advance the economic growth we’ve seen here in southeast Wisconsin,” Steil said. “But in particular, how do we make sure everyone is able to take advantage of that growth … I look forward to having that conversation with the president and with everybody in Washington to try to get things done.”

But before Steil can talk to Trump or work on legislation, he first needs to set up his office. During the freshman orientation, the new members chose random numbers to select their offices.

Steil picked 50 out of 90 and chose the office that formerly housed Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass.

“It hits you when you’re formally assigned your office,” Steil said, adding he plans to decorate it with items manufactured in Racine, Kenosha, Janesville and other places within the district.

“I would like to make it look like home,” Steil said, adding “On a side note, I’m a big fan of maps. So there’s pretty good chance that a few maps make it up in the office as well.”

“When you boil it down, the vast majority of people that I met in the freshman class are there for the right reasons. They believe in the country and they believe we need to put policies in place to advance it.” Bryan Steil, congressman-elect

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Ricardo Torres covers federal, state and Racine County politics along with the Village of Mount Pleasant. He bleeds Wisconsin sports teams.

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