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Paul Ryan's mentor is Bassett High School graduate
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Professor William R. “Rich” Hart (left) is shown with presumed Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan (right) at a “Ryan VP Rally” Wednesday at Miami University in Ohio. In the center is Ohio Gov. Jon Kasich. Ryan is a former student of Hart, who grew up in Bassett. (Contributed photo)

Monday, August 20, 2012

By PAUL COLLINS - Bulletin Staff Writer

A former Bassett resident has been a mentor, teacher and friend to presumed Republican vice presidential nominee Rep. Paul Ryan.

William R. “Rich” Hart, a Miami University (Ohio) economics professor who grew up in Bassett, taught Ryan in an intermediate macroeconomics theory course in 1991. They have remained friends over the years.

Three years ago during a commencement address at Miami University, Ryan called Hart his mentor and said everyone should take a course from him.

Hart, a Bassett High School graduate, said in a phone interview Friday that Ryan was the kind of student professors saw once every two or three years: He was intellectually curious.

For instance, on his own, Ryan was reading “The Road to Serfdom” by Friedrich Hayek, a Nobel Prize-winning Austrian economist who argued for free-market capitalism and against socialism and central planning.

Hart said Hayek was an early libertarian who thought the proper role of government should be a small one, and that what matters most is individual liberty and freedom.

Ryan also was reading John Locke, a libertarian, conservative philosopher, Hart said.

Ryan and Hart discussed those men’s work as well as the writings of Milton Friedman, Nobel Prize-winning economist from University of Chicago and prominent advocate of free markets, according to Hart and online information.

At a Ryan VP Rally at Miami University on Wednesday, Hart gave introductory remarks: “It was during office hours over the course of the semester that I got to know Paul. He would drop by my office — not to discuss grades (thank you, Paul) or the economic theory being developed in class — but rather to discuss political and economic philosophy. We discussed the writings (of) ... Hayek and the writings of Milton Friedman; we talked about supply-side economics. And we talked about the role of government in society (it should be limited) and the importance of individual freedom and liberty.

“What I learned from these discussions — what everyone ... now knows — is that Paul is a man of ideas, a man of vision.”

On Friday, Hart said Ryan was a superb student who was smart and articulate.

The Wisconsin Republican is a good choice for Mitt Romney’s running mate because he is a “policy person, designing policy to solve problems,” Hart added.

Ryan crafted the House Republican budget.

Ryan “is clearly the intellectual leader of the Republican Party” and has brought to the forefront the need to get government spending under control and the need to reform entitlement, the two biggest problems facing this country, the professor said. Entitlement reform is needed primarily for Medicare and Medicaid and to a lesser extent for Social Security, he added.

Out-of-control spending has created a debt crisis, Hart said. He noted that the country’s debt has increased from $10 trillion to almost $16 trillion under President Barack Obama, which Hart said is not sustainable.

Hart said Ryan’s budget plan also would simplify the U.S. tax system, which Hart said is overly complicated and overly burdensome.

When asked if he thinks Ryan’s budget plan would work, Hart said, “I think so, yes.”

Hart said he has given talks on why President Obama’s economic policies have failed. The president, Hart said, has tried to solve the nation’s economic problems through government intervention. For example, in Hart’s view, Obama has picked certain industries to support, such as the automotive and solar industries.

Obama’s economic policies haven’t created any jobs and have amounted to “pouring money down a rat hole,” Hart added.

While Obama favors government intervention, Ryan favors free market solutions, Hart said. He said he believes Ryan’s plan will, among other things, help bring back jobs that have gone overseas.

Hart said Ryan is the only politician he has ever given money to.

He said Ryan represents a congressional district that includes Milwaukee and is largely Democratic, yet he wins elections by large margins.

“I think he’d be a fabulous vice president,” Hart said.

“One of my wishes is I live long enough to see Paul Ryan president,” he added later.

Hart said that in addition to Ryan’s intellectual ability, he has a friendly, pleasant personality; is very engaging; and is “very outgoing, but kind of in a shy, reserved way. He’s really, really friendly.”

Hart said he considers Ryan a friend. “We stay in touch,” Hart said. “I email him every now and then. We chitchat on the phone every now and then,” but not as much in the last year.

Hart said he probably would not be offered a position in a Romney-Ryan administration and would turn one down if it was offered. He said he is 65 years old and is looking forward to full-time retirement.

“He (Ryan) has access to far better economists than me,” Hart said.

Hart said he has been swamped with news media interviews in recent days, including CNN, New York Times, Washington Post, Boston Globe, Los Angeles Times, Washington Times, The Associated Press, papers in Cincinnati and Dayton, Reuters, National Public Radio and the New Yorker Magazine.

“I finally had to stop,” he said. “My 15 minutes of fame is pushing close to 20. ... I’ve been on the phone 12-14 hours every day since Saturday (after Romney announced Ryan as his running mate),” except Friday.

Hart said he learned the importance of self-reliance growing up in Bassett. The work ethic of his father, George Richard Hart (known as Dick and G.R.) was a strong influence on him, Rich Hart said, adding that his father was vice president of production at Bassett-Walker.

He recalled after he and his twin brother, Nick, turned 15, they didn’t get their 25- to 50-cent weekly allowances one week, so Rich asked their dad about it.

“It (the allowance) has stopped. You’re 15. You can get a job,” his father told him.

Rich said he started mowing lawns.

Nick now lives in Atlanta and has a small business.

Rich Hart said his dad hardly ever discussed politics, but his mom, homemaker Mary Hart, came from a political family of Republicans. Rich Hart said his mother’s brother, Clyde Kinney, was very political — a smart, hard-core Republican. “I’d just sit and listen,” Hart said.

After graduating from Bassett High School in 1965, he majored in economics at the University of Richmond, graduating with honors in 1969. He earned a Ph.D. in economics from Washington University in St. Louis in 1974 and joined the faculty that year at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, about 25 miles from Cincinnati. He’s been there ever since.

It has been “a perfect career for me,” especially to have students like Paul Ryan coming to Hart’s office to have discussions.

“I absolutely love teaching and love research,” Hart said. “I’ve always been intellectually curious. I love the academic environment, the give and take,” where people learn new things. He also likes publishing things.

“I still get back to Virginia,” Hart said. Two of the last three years, he has attended the March race at the Martinsville Speedway.

He said he regularly calls his cousin Bill Kinney, who lives outside of Stanleytown.


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