By Bill Lueders
Reid Ribble knows he’s not like some other members of Congress. But he’s careful to not peg himself as wiser or more virtuous. Just differently oriented.
“I’m a bit of an outlier just in general,” said Ribble, the only Republican member of Wisconsin’s congressional delegation who voted to raise the nation’s debt ceiling and reopen the federal government. “I view life through a little different prism.”
Ribble, who represents the 8th congressional district in northeast Wisconsin, including Green Bay and Appleton, was elected in 2010 after running his family’s roofing company for almost 30 years.
“So I’m more pragmatic than some of my colleagues and certainly less politically minded,” Ribble said. “I’ve never lived in a political realm before, so I don’t measure what I do in terms of the political ramifications.”
Ribble’s fellow state GOP representatives — Paul Ryan, James Sensenbrenner, Sean Duffy and Tom Petri — all voted against ending the stalemate that threatened to throw the nation into default. So did Republican Sen. Ron Johnson, who called the bill ending the 16-day shutdown “fiscally irresponsible.”
But Ribble said that, as a businessman, he grasped the damage a default could do, adding with a chuckle that “having a functioning government is simply better for the economy.”
Well before the pivotal Oct. 16 vote, Ribble criticized the shutdown, driven by opposition to Obamacare, as “the wrong tactic from Republicans.” On a national cable news show, he dismissed a fellow GOP congressman’s claim that breaching the nation’s debt ceiling might be a good thing as “just crazy talk.”
But Ribble voted to repeal or take away Obamacare financing dozens of times, and sided with other Republicans in votes that led to the shutdown. He said he’s consistently reflected the will of his constituents.
At first, the calls and emails coming into his office “were much more in favor of shutting the government down and forcing some reform,” Ribble said. “As the shutdown lingered, it began to flip.” Likewise his own position.
Ribble belongs to Problem Solvers, a bipartisan group of House and Senate members “committed to regular across-the-aisle meetings.” In July, he made headlines by criticizing the partisan redistricting that lets politicians create districts that are overwhelming Democrat or Republican.
Importantly, Ribble’s district does not fit this mold. In 2012, almost 48 percent of its voters picked Democrat Barack Obama.
David Canon, a University of Wisconsin-Madison political science professor, said this allows Ribble to stake out more centrist positions, without drawing a strong challenge from the Tea Party, which cheered the shutdown.
Gannett Wisconsin Media reported that a national group approached at least one Republican in Ribble’s district about mounting a primary challenge. The Republican declined, saying he agrees with Ribble’s vote to end the shutdown.
Ribble said he’s “aligned” with the Tea Party on government being too large and intrusive, and the need to reduce the national debt. But he faults some of its voices, such as those on the far left, for “too much yelling and not enough talking.”
Ribble’s vote on the shutdown earned him a thumbs up from the Appleton Post-Crescent and praise from the Wisconsin State Journal, which called him “the only Wisconsin Republican who got it right.”
And Canon said Ribble’s stance might even help him raise campaign money, now that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other pro-Republican business groups are signaling support for moderates over Tea Party stalwarts. The chamber gave Ribble $3,000 in his last election, of the $2.3 million he raised.
But Ribble’s status as a proponent of calmer relations on this issue is not necessarily secure, given the forcefulness with which he vows to hold Obama to his promise to negotiate on debt reduction.
According to a statement attributed to Ribble explaining his vote, “If he fails, this will be my last vote under this president to extend the debt limit.”