WASHINGTON — Rep. Paul Ryan may be best known here as a budget wonk, but he has a hobby probably few know about — catching catfish in Oklahoma with his bare hands. And his dogs are named Boomer and Sooner.
The Wisconsin Republican, now the running mate for presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, has made frequent trips to Oklahoma for more than a decade, since marrying Madill native Janna Little.
He told Oklahoma business leaders in Washington last fall that he goes to the state every holiday. And though two Oklahomans serve on the House Budget Committee that he leads, Ryan proudly noted that he was the only one of the three that had been “noodling.”
Ryan married into an Oklahoma family whose roots precede statehood and whose members are very familiar with politics.
Janna Little Ryan, a former tax attorney who married Ryan in Oklahoma City in 2000, worked in the early 1990s on the Capitol Hill staff of former Rep. Bill Brewster, a Democrat who represented the Marshall County town of Madill, where her parents lived. Before that, she was an intern in the office of former U.S. Sen. David Boren.
She is the daughter of attorney and businessman Dan Little, of Madill, and the late Prudence Little, who was an attorney active in a wide range of civic and educational causes.
Rep. Dan Boren, D-Muskogee, is her first cousin.
“Janna and I grew up together, and I couldn't be more proud of my cousin,” Boren said Saturday. “Like my late mother after whom she is named, Janna is a wonderful parent to their children and will be Paul's strongest supporter on the campaign trail.”
Janna Ryan Little's grandfather, Reuel W. Little, was born in the town of Kingston when Oklahoma was still Indian Territory. He graduated from the University of Oklahoma and the OU Law School and started a law firm in Madill, where Dan Little still works.
In 1967, Reuel W. Little helped form a third political party in Oklahoma to help George Wallace, a former Alabama governor, get on the presidential ballot in the state. Little was a presidential elector for the American Party in 1968 when Wallace got 20 percent of the vote in Oklahoma.
Reuel W. Little ran for governor in Oklahoma in 1970 as an American Party candidate but got less than 4 percent of the vote. Four years later, Reuel Little's son-in-law, David Boren, won the governor's seat.
Janna Little Ryan's parents have held numerous positions in the state. Prudence Little, who graduated first in her class at the OU College of Law in 1968, was one of the first members of the Oklahoma Ethics Commission and served as chairman of the OU Foundation; she died in 2010. Dan Little has served on OU's board of regents and is chairman of the board of trustees for the Oklahoma School of Science and Mathematics.
Like her mother, Janna Little Ryan got her undergraduate degree at Wellesley College in Massachusetts. She got her law degree at George Washington University in Washington. It could not be determined on Saturday whether she attended public schools in Oklahoma.
She was working as a tax attorney in Washington when she met Ryan, who was serving his first term in Congress. The couple have three children: Liza, 10, and sons Charles, 8, and Sam, 7.
Ryan told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel at the time of their engagement in 2000 that they went deer hunting together and that she spotted the eight-point buck he shot on opening day of deer season. Ryan was 30 and Little 31 when they announced their engagement that April.
Dr. Ronald H. White, who served with Dan Little on the OU Board of Regents and praised the family's long civic involvement, said he attended the couple's wedding and that it was held at St. Joseph Old Cathedral, which was heavily damaged in the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. White said the reception was at the Petroleum Club.
Rep. Tom Cole, R-Moore, who now represents Madill, said Saturday that he had gone on a congressional trip with the Ryans and later wrote Dan Little to tell him that it was like traveling with a president and his wife.
“They're devoted to one another,” Cole said Saturday.
Cole said Ryan and Dan Boren, also an avid hunter, “are responsible for killing half the game in Oklahoma.”