Janna Ryan comes from storied Oklahoma Democratic family
MADILL, Okla. — Like her husband, Janna Ryan, the wife of Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan, is a Washington veteran after years working as a legislative staff member, attorney and lobbyist. Now a stay-at-home mom, she comes from a family rooted deep in Oklahoma politics — of the Democratic sort.
In the days since Mitt Romney introduced her husband as his running mate, the woman who grew up Janna Christine Little also has been thrust into the spotlight.
While he headed out on the campaign trail, she took the kids — their daughter, Liza, 10, and sons Charles, 8, and Sam, 7 — camping in Colorado, the same vacation he had planned to attend before being tapped by Romney.
In Lakewood, Colo., Tuesday, Ryan told more than 2,000 supporters that he and his wife taught their children last summer how to cook on the campfire and make s’mores.
Said Ryan, “Janna and I put them to bed in the tent. We stayed up late and we talked about our country. And there’s nothing like the stars and the skies of the Colorado Rockies at night.”
His wife knows something about living in a place where the skies are big and filled with stars. Her path to Washington began in the small southern Oklahoma town of Madill, where her family is an institution.
Janna Ryan, 43, is a cousin of Democratic U.S. Rep. Dan Boren and a niece of former Gov. and U.S. Sen. David Boren. Her grandfather, the late Reuel Little, a longtime farmer and rancher, won less than 4 percent of the vote as a third-party candidate for governor in 1970.
His 1993 obituary said he and a group began planning the party’s formation in 1967 to help George Wallace’s presidential bid. The four-term Alabama governor and segregationist was a Democrat but ran in 1968 as the American Independent Party candidate.
Dan Little, Janna’s father and an attorney, still works at the law firm Reuel Little started in 1927; he also is chairman of the Oklahoma School of Mathematics and Sciences Board of Trustees and a former member of the University of Oklahoma board.
Her mother, the late Prudence Little, was one of the first members of the state’s ethics commission, as well as a former chairwoman of the Oklahoma University Foundation.
Said Lynn Windel, a law partner of Dan Little and a family friend, of Janna Ryan, “She basically has come from a politically minded family, so it was easy for her to understand politics.”
Janna Ryan caught the political bug early, working as an intern for David Boren. He called her “one of the best interns I ever had in my office.”
Boren, now the president of the University of Oklahoma, is effusive in his praise. “She is highly intelligent and a hard worker. More recently she has put all of her energy into being a wonderful mother and wife. Having known her all of her life, I have great admiration and affection for her.”
By the early 1990s she was in Washington, where she spent six years in Democratic Rep. Bill Brewster’s office, while earning her law degree at night.