by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Early last fall, walking off the House floor, newly minted speaker Paul Ryan approached a colleague who’s been deemed one of the most anonymous figures on Capitol Hill: North Carolina freshman Mark Walker.
Ryan had a question.
“He said he had a lot on his plate now that he was speaker,” Walker recalls. “He asked if I would take an active role in helping drive his anti-poverty message forward. . . . He knew we shared in a belief that community relationships must come before the policies.”
Walker chief of staff Scott Luginbill says the congressman was “giddy” when he returned to his office.
The broader conference may not have been entirely familiar with Walker, a disarming, soft-spoken Baptist minister who has long made anti-poverty efforts his calling card. But Ryan, whose own interest in helping the poor goes back decades, was well aware of him. Even before reluctantly entering the speaker’s race in October, Ryan was brainstorming ideas for a House task force geared toward inner-city outreach, in hopes of generating a welfare-reform package and a strategy for improving the conference’s relationships with communities that typically don’t skew Republican. And he often turned to Walker as a sounding board for his plans.