Frank Ryan is ready to walk away from the political scene in Harrisburg – at least, in an elected capacity.
Ryan, who has been the state representative for the 101st Legislative District for more than five years, announced last month he would not seek reelection. That means his seat will be up for grabs when his term ends later this year.
For Ryan, it means having more time to spend with his grandchildren. But it also means he’ll have more freedom to push for legislation on issues important to him from outside the state Capitol building.
Ryan recently discussed his plans – and his recollections – with LebTown.
Not a difficult decision
Ryan decided not to run again, he said, for a simple enough reason.
“From my perspective, it probably wasn’t too difficult a decision. I’ll be 71 in just a few months,” he said. “With what I now know, and what we’ve accomplished – 16 bills that I wrote or was a primary sponsor of became law – but probably the biggest thing I’ve noticed is the amount of work that needs to be done to get the commonwealth under control … is going to need someone who’s younger. There’s a lot yet to do.”
When he ran six years ago, Ryan said, “I made the comment that we had two to four years to turn the commonwealth’s financial ship around. If we didn’t get that started, we would be insolvent in 12 years. I still stand behind that.
“We made some significant progress since then,” he added. “I had a very successful period of being able to let the community know what needed to be fixed, and start that fixing process.”
But, he said, while “I absolutely love the constituent service part of the job, I do not particularly enjoy the politics side of it.”
“We have a great community. You have no idea how much pleasure I get out of going to Boy Scout events, the Heritage Girls, musical events at the schools … that kind of stuff I really enjoy,” he said. “The politics of Harrisburg? Not so much. You need a person who can go in with a little more experience, who understands some of the nuances of what we’re doing, so they can focus on getting some of this stuff fixed.”
Ups and downs in office
Ryan was open about his successes and failures in Harrisburg.
“Probably the No. 1 thing I’m most proud of is the fact that we were able to keep any tax increases from occurring during my time in office,” he said. “But if I had to pick one issue? The increase in financial awareness among the other legislators and the need for fiscal reform and financial controls.”
A retired Marine reserve colonel and certified public accountant, Ryan said he’s “well respected in Harrisburg” for his financial acumen.
“We’ve had a lot of bills passed on financial transparency and pension reform,” he said.
Ryan has been instrumental in pushing an audit and overhaul of Pennsylvania’s public pension system, which is still working its way through the state Legislature.
According to a recent report by the Philadelphia Inquirer, “calls for reform have a renewed urgency” since the Public School Employees’ Retirement System, aka PSERS and valued at some $73 billion, is “facing a pair of federal investigations, turnover among top staff, and calls by lawmakers of both parties to make public its own delayed internal investigation of exaggerated profits and Harrisburg land deals.”
Ryan’s also proud of the passage of Shawn’s Law, which increases criminal penalties for people convicted of aiding or encouraging another person to commit suicide. The law is named for Shawn Shatto, of Newberry Township, York County, who killed herself after receiving a step-by-step guide on how to make poison from an online chat forum. Ryan co-sponsored the bill.
On the other hand, Ryan has regrets, too.
“The one’s that got me the most concerned, and it’s one of the biggest reasons that I ran, is property tax elimination,” he said.
“We’re still working on it,” he added. “I’d have liked to have gotten that done last session but, due to my naïveté about marketing, the story got ahead of me. That kind of set us back, there was a lot of misunderstandings about the bill. I have to take responsibility for that.”
If the bill had passed, Ryan said, the average senior would have saved “about $800 a year” in school property taxes.
Rethinking civics in schools
Ryan thinks schools should teach all students the basics of financial literacy.
He also wants to “help people engage with their government” more fully – and more knowledgeably – than they have been in recent years.
“I’ve been very surprised at the lack of civics education,” he said. “Our education system has stopped focusing on civics education. I’ve co-sponsored a bill to put civics back in the education requirements.
“Our government is incredibly difficult for people to deal with. We’re doing a tremendous disservice to our youngsters when we don’t show them how to engage with their government so that their government is more responsive to them.”
It can be as simple, Ryan said, as teaching people who to call when they have a state-level issue to deal with. Many people assume – often wrongly – that their local state representative has all the answers.
Speaking of state representatives, Ryan said he’s talked to “four or five people” who have expressed interest in running for his seat. He’s not planning to endorse any of them, he said.
“At this time, I don’t plan on getting involved,” he said. “I’ve said to every one of them, if you need assistance in terms of what’s going on in the district, I’m happy to help.”
The Republican Party, as a whole, faces an identity crisis, Ryan said.
He believes more people are identifying with the GOP as “the party of the fiscal conservative,” he said. “But we need to make a concerted effort to try to tone down the rhetoric in what we do politically. The level of public discourse is horrible. It’s the worst I’ve ever seen. And that starts with the individual.
“We have to have the ability to work with and be friends with members of the other party. We all have to do our parts.”
That hasn’t stopped Ryan from wading into a few political swamps – always on the Republican Party line – such as siding with local GOP officials when they voted to ignore a statewide order regarding COVID-19 restrictions at the height of the COVID-19 shutdown and supporting Taste of Sicily in its defiance of state health regulations for eat-in dining establishments.
He would like to see more people – from both parties – running for office, he added.
“About 60 of the seats (in the Legislature) are not competitive at all,” Ryan said. “Whenever you have an area where there’s no competition, that’s a problem. We need to do something so that all of the districts are competitive.”
Decompress and downsize
Currently, the 101st Legislative District covers Lebanon city; North Cornwall, North Londonderry, South Annville, South Londonderry and West Cornwall townships; and Mount Gretna, Palmyra and Cornwall boroughs. The map will change through redistricting before the next election, losing North Londonderry and South Londonderry townships and Mount Gretna and Palmyra boroughs, and gaining North, West and South Lebanon townships.
Ryan serves on several legislative committees, including Finance, Veterans Affairs, and State Government.
He plans to spend the remainder of his term in office – now less than 10 months – focusing on property tax elimination and pension reform.
“If I could do that as my swan song, I would be the happiest man alive,” he said. However, if it’s not accomplished by then, Ryan said his work won’t be over. He already has someone who will take over sponsorship of the bills, he said, and Ryan will “focus 100 percent of my time” on pushing them through from the outside.
“With what I now know from being on the inside, what I need to do is put pressure on people to get things done, and that’s done easier from the outside,” Ryan explained. But not as a lobbyist, he quickly added. “I’m not a big fan of the lobbyists,” he said – and, besides, legislators are prohibited from acting as lobbyists for 12 months after the end of their term.
But it won’t be all work once Ryan leaves office, he said.
“I have nine grandkids,” he said. “I would say the past four years have been the most difficult years, from a work perspective, in my life.
“My wife commented the other day, ‘It’s been five years since you’ve taken a day off.’ We want to decompress, downsize and spend more time with the grandkids.”
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