Ryan staffer, once lost in a mall, finds his way on the Hill

Matt Lavoie has come a long way from the time he got lost during a trip to the mall with his mom.
Lavoie, who is Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) new press secretary, effortlessly navigates the halls of the Longworth House Office Building on his way to the cafeteria with a reporter, talking of the familiarity with the Capitol grounds that he has accrued in his two-plus years on the Hill. The 26-year-old previously worked in both the Cannon and Rayburn buildings, and was on the staffs of Reps. John McHugh (R-N.Y.), Mike Pence (R-Ind.) and Wally Herger (R-Calif.) before assuming his current post with Ryan in February.

As a 5-year-old, he wasn’t as alert. Lavoie remembers wandering away from his mom at the mall and ending up behind the counter of a food-court restaurant, watching the cooks make the pizza.

“I guess one of the clerks never stopped and said, ‘Hey, there’s a 5-year-old here, and he’s not mine,’ ” Lavoie says. But an observant customer noticed the parentless child and helped reunite Lavoie and his mom.

Lavoie tells the story to illustrate the point that he was the child who couldn’t remember his own phone number in crucial situations like the mall episode. But he does have a talent for recalling pop-culture history, which mostly comes in handy at a bar on trivia night.

Repeat exposure has helped Lavoie amplify his range of knowledge on books, television, movies and music. He jokes that his behavior borders on obsessive-compulsive when it comes to re-reading his favorite books and re-watching his favorite movies.

For instance, he estimates that he has read John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany 10 times since first opening that book’s cover in high school.

He also picks from a collection of approximately 150 DVDs to watch his favorite movies in a loop, Will Ferrell’s “Anchorman” and “The Karate Kid” series among them.

He credits his mom for this habit, recalling that when he was a child, she would play songs like Lesley Gore’s “Maybe I Know” on repeat until the family would be “crying for mercy.”

One might wonder what kind of a Hill staffer has the time to burn through books and movies at the rate Lavoie does. On top of that, he regularly plays pick-up basketball and has been hitting the House gym so consistently that he has lost 60 pounds in the last few months. One of his time-saving secrets is a talent for speed-reading. Lavoie says he can read Owen Meany, a 619-page book in paperback, in two or three hours.

“I read very, very quickly,” he says, estimating that he can get through five to 10 pages per minute. “It’s not like a chore.”

Lavoie’s exposure to politics began at a young age, when his parents demanded silence from Lavoie and his sister during televised presidential debates. It was further cemented after Sept. 11, 2001, when he was an undergraduate at Ithaca College majoring in sports management. He decided his political values trumped his love of sports and switched majors to history.

Lavoie has contemplated running for office but acknowledges that as a Republican from the traditionally Democratic Massachusetts, he’d probably have to find a new home state. In the meantime, he’s content to keep his government job for the foreseeable future.

“It’s such a high-wire act,” he says. “You’re working without a net most of the time, and it really is a great adrenaline rush.”