Top Advisor for House Speaker Paul Ryan Returns to Gordon at Opportune Time

General Counsel to House Speaker Paul Ryan, Mark Epley ’89, returned to Gordon at as relevant of a time as ever. One year ago, Epley became senior advisor to the person third in line from the President.

Epley plays a key role in counseling and briefing Ryan, strategizing and building support for party legislation. But for years, he himself has been a change-making politician ahead of his time. During a recent Conversation with the President event at Gordon, Epley discussed his organizing of the National Conference on Human Trafficking in 2004, when he served as Chief of Staff of the grant-making entity of the Department of Justice.

“In 2004 there was not a great appreciation for what human trafficking was—that it was alive, that it is modern-day slavery,” he said. “So, we developed a grant program to help federal, state and local law enforcement and other providers to both spot human trafficking and to rescue people from it.”

As a result of the conference, President Bush put it on his human rights agenda to end human trafficking.

When it comes to his current day-to-day work with Ryan, Epley said, “I compare it to being at the end of a conveyer belt. The conveyer belt is coming right at me and I’m just moving as quick as I can.”

As oversight staff director, Epley ensures that accurate data informs public policy in areas such as welfare and healthcare. In this role, he also oversees litigation of the lawsuits involving the House, taking action against the Obama Administration for the lack of feasibility of the Affordable Care Act. In addition, Epley interprets whether or not current law is working optimally: Should a law be passed? Should a law be repealed?

“It’s really hard to pass laws, so that is one way Washington has changed over the past 25 years,” Epley said.

Another thing that’s changed since his Gordon days is Epley’s interest in politics. As a student, he had not considered political involvement until participating in the American Studies program in Washington D.C. at the prodding of former Professor of Political Science Bill Harper.

At that point, the social justice element of politics appealed to the democratic-leaning Epley. “I became convinced of God’s special interest in the poor and the oppressed, the downtrodden, the refugee, the outcast,” he said. “I came to believe that my public policy views needed to be shaped by that in some way.”

The college Democrat-turned-Republican lawmaker on Capitol Hill gave hope in a tiring political season that politics is about more than “people out to eat your lunch.”

By Dan Simonds ’17, communication arts