TAMPA, Fla. — When Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan took the stage here Wednesday night at the Republican National Convention, he wasn't the only one thrust into a national spotlight.
Ryan's wife, Oklahoma native Janna Little Ryan, and their three children will also find themselves garnering far more attention than they have experienced as the family of a Wisconsin congressman.
“It's always challenging when you're the spouse of a very, very public figure, and this will certainly elevate her level of exposure to the public as far as people just wanting to know who she is and what's she about,” Gov. Mary Fallin said here in an interview.
Fallin and others who know the Ryans said Janna Ryan can handle the transition.
“I think she'll do very well,” the governor said.
Though Janna Ryan comes from a southern Oklahoma family that has long been involved in politics and has been married to Ryan since 2000, she has by most accounts been able to live a quiet life in her husband's home in Janesville, Wis.
That is the case for many congressional spouses of lawmakers, though it's not public life doesn't sometimes intrude.
Cindy Lankford, who is married to Rep. James Lankford, an Oklahoma City Republican, said, “I can make it through Walmart at times without being recognized.”
And Ellen Cole, wife of Rep. Tom Cole, R-Moore, said, “I really don't have any problem with it. I feel pretty anonymous most of the time.”
The families of all of Oklahoma's senators and House members have, as have Janna Little Ryan and her children, stayed back in the home state.
When Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Cheyenne, was first elected to the House in 1994, his wife, Lynda, said she wanted to stay in Oklahoma and raise the couple's kids there.
And, she said, “We have cattle, and someone has to stay there and feed them and keep them from getting out.”
Lucas said here this week that his wife has been able to maintain her own life as a cattle ranch operator and serve in the church and on local boards while tending to the family during Lucas' weeks in Washington.
“I don't think our neighbors treated her any differently,” Lucas said.
The lawmakers themselves prefer that their families not be too involved.
“I don't think my wife and son have to be part of any of this,” Cole said. “There's parts of my business that aren't attractive, and I don't want my wife and son to be around them.”
They can't always avoid it.
Lucas said his son, who used to bag groceries at a local grocery store, once got an earful from an elderly Democrat.
Cindy Lankford said her younger daughter had not experienced much trouble in middle school but that there was “a little more interaction in high school,” where students sometimes ask her to pass on a message to her father.
Ellen Cole said many of the people who know her son don't realize his father is a congressman. But one person did choose to use the son's Facebook page to attack the congressman.
Fallin said the Internet has made it tougher for families, especially children, “to live a normal life, a private life.”
She said, “I certainly talk to my own children about what they have on Facebook or Twitter. I even caution them to watch people in a crowd who might be trying to film you just to try to put you in a bad light. There are a lot of people out there that are curious and might do things maybe unknowingly, some knowingly.”
Lucas said the Ryan children “have already been exposed to the challenges of being the family of a member of Congress. So it's a transition, but it's not as traumatic or as challenging as if suddenly you walked in off the street from Madill or Cheyenne and the Secret Service was with you every moment.”
Cindy Lankford said she had never thought about what it might be like for her and her family to be part of a national campaign and expressed relief that she didn't have to.
“I don't have to cross that bridge right now,'' she said. “I don't even have to think about it.”
I don't think my wife and son have to be part of any of this. There's parts of my business that aren't attractive, and I don't want my wife and son to be around them.”