Senator Sherrod Brown on How to Win in Ohio/from The Nation | February 13, 2008

Interview  By Katrina vanden Heuvel in The Nation

      COMMENTS (46)

In 2006, Sherrod Brown ran on an anti-war populist economic message and won in towns across Ohio long written-off by Democrats. On March 4, the Democratic primary will be held in the state, with Obama possibly looking to continue a streak of victories, while Clinton faces as close to a must-win situation as we are likely to see in the fight for the nomination.

While Senator Brown has said he won’t endorse either candidate before the Ohio primary, he’s in close contact with both candidates, and in an interview with me he spoke candidly about trade, globalization, and lessons on how to win in his state. To paraphrase, it’s about economic populism, stupid. And as Obama battles to make inroads with the white and Latino working-class, and Clinton distances herself from the trade policies of her husband’s administration, Ohio is there for the taking.

Here then is the transcript of my conversation with Senator Brown:

Q: How are you approaching any endorsement decision?

I will not endorse before the Ohio primary. I’m weighing what my state does, that’s certainly part of it. Also, my conversations with both Barack and Hillary, and with Governor Sebelius calling for Barack, and with Bill Clinton calling for Hillary, and Dick Durbin – all the people who have called for them, in addition to talking directly with the candidates… [we] talk about trade, talk about a populist, progressive message in Ohio, talk about privatization and anti-privatization, and all the things they need to do around tax and trade policy.

Both of them are obviously significantly better than Bush Republicans, McCain. They’re close. I’ve talked to Barack a lot about his Patriot Corporation Act, which is not trade per se, but it’s certainly part of the economic package around globalization. The Patriot Corporation Act has not gotten the attention that I would hope it would. But, basically it says that if you play by the rules, if you pay decent wages, health benefits, pension; do your production here; don’t resist unionization on neutral card check, then you will be designated a “Patriot Corporation” and you will get tax advantages and some [preference] on government contracts. Jan Schakowsky first came to me… I co-sponsored and worked on it with her in 2005 or 2006. And Barack has been a sponsor of it in the Senate. Hillary is not on it as of now, but those are the kinds of things I want to see them talk about and do and I am hopeful – and pretty much expect – that they will talk about those issues in Ohio.

Q: Have you had a chance to talk to Sen. Clinton about the Patriot Corporation Act?

Yes, I did some time, back – early, like October or November. I’ve talked to her since about other things, more specifically, trade. And Barack I’ve talked to within the last week both on trade and on the Patriot Corporation Act. It does two things, the Patriot Corporation Act and better trade policy: it helps win Ohio and helps them govern in the right way. I think you can really take the country in a very different direction building a progressive message around that kind of economic issue – the Patriot Corporation Act and trade. We won 32 or 33 more counties than John Kerry did mostly in small towns in rural Ohio where they were very responsive to a populist progressive message. One town in particular – this is something that just happened – there’s a company called American Standard, they make toilets, plumbing fixtures, you’ll see them in near any public restroom anywhere. They’re in Tiffin, Ohio, town of 20,000. They’ve just announced back around 3 months ago, the closing of the plant. It was bought by some investors, they’re moving offshore, they’re honoring the union contract as far as they have to, which is those who already have their 30 years. If you have less than 30 you’re pretty screwed–they give you something, but you can’t get to the 30 years because they close the plant. And the company that came in and bought it was Bain Capital, Mitt Romney’s firm…. These investors come in, take millions of dollars out of the company, and you know, it’s pension and healthcare. And those are going on all over the country. And this is a town of 20,000. I carried that county, Kerry didn’t. They had already laid off some people…. It’s those kinds of situations that cause small town Ohio to vote for somebody like me regardless of the social issues.

Whenever Hillary says the right thing about trade, the Washington Post just slams her. It’s unbelievable. I met with the Post editorial board back in about November or December, and I said, kind of joking with them, “Do you have a full-time person, every time Hillary says anything that you don’t like on trade, you like automatically write an editorial within 24 hours?” They kind of laughed and said, “Yeah, we have a full-time person on it.” But the newspapers – I got one newspaper endorsement in the state of the big nine papers. It was the only paper that’s been a bit more even-handed on trade…. They’re gonna get slapped around by the newspapers for this. Particularly Hillary… Hillary’s clearly moved way away from the old Clinton [administration] position, but the newspapers want to slap her every time she speaks out about that. Because they think it’s all for political reasons. I really don’t. I think that both of them genuinely see the problems of globalization. I think they understand that, I don’t think their solutions are quite strong enough yet – either of them. But I think they’re on the way and they’re getting close, and I think we’ll see more of that kind of growth as they focus on these kinds of issues in the Midwest now.

Q: So it sounds like you think the candidates are doing a decent job but there’s definitely room for improvement?

Yeah, I wish they’d go a little further but they’re getting there. And I wish they would emphasize it more. You know, again, they emphasize it, the media will attack them on it, I understand that. Most of the mainstream media, that’s what they do. You know, they attacked me, and so what? I won by well into double-digits, in a slightly Republican state, against an incumbent with this message. Granted, it was a good year, and the Republican Party’s in trouble, but that was big part of the reason. My numbers compared to Kerry were not a whole lot better in the big Metropolitan counties… but in the small counties I ran ahead of him by 10-15 points. Just looking at that, there has to be a reason, and the reason was a populist economic message.

Q: What are some of the specifics you would like to see them speaking more openly about, being more aggressive about?

They should certainly talk about the Patriot Corporation Act. I think they should strongly speak out against the Columbian Trade Deal. And they should call for a time out – as Hillary has, perhaps Barack has, I haven’t heard – call for a time-out on trade agreements. I have a bill I’m about to introduce to set up a Commission – both parties, both Houses – to look back at what we’ve done in trade, and decide which ones we renegotiate. And work to renegotiate. And what we learn from that, and what we move forward on. I know what I think we should do, but I think we need to build a better consensus in Congress to get there. It’s labor and environmental standards, that’s a start. It’s also stopping the shift of power from governments to corporations. Part of the privatization effort that we have in these trade agreements… we’re giving away our sovereignty to corporations in terms of environmental law, food safety law, labor law, allowing these companies to overturn democratically arrived at, democratically determined, health and safety rules and laws. That’s where I wish [Barack and Hillary] would go when they start to get more specific.

Q: How much are we able to reopen and renegotiate?

That’s unclear. I mean, the first thing we do is stop. But we are such a huge, lucrative market. If you make the analogy to a business. If you have a customer that’s 40 percent of your sales you’re gonna pay a lot of attention to that customer. We are 35 percent still of China’s sales, China’s exports, that’s the most recent number I’ve seen…. With Mexico, we’re maybe 80, I don’t know what percent exactly. But we’re important enough to these countries that we can use our market – not to exploit them – but, in fact, to lift their standards up and to lift their standard of living up. And to make those countries more open towards unionization, and more environmentally responsible. And that’s what we’ve never done, of course.

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Let me get this straight….Sherrod Brown hit the proverbial gold mine by espousing an economic populist message in an old-economy Belt and won, good for and smart of him…or just opportunistic…..now, is Ohio better off today than 2006? Must be, he sure sounds mighty proud!Brown cited the Patriot Corp. Act twice in this Q&A, as a KEY to fight globalization? Watch all the old companies that already qualify, but maybe struggling a bit, line up at the trough instead of finding better ways to compete without shutting US plants and bust its unions.Oh, if Sherrod Brown represents the Ohio Dems’ way of increasing investments in their states….then, they are headed north, like Michigan!Why don’t Rust Belt states try eliminating all corp. taxes, open shop, state tax credits for REAL in-state R&D, state-backed bonds for mid-sized firms needing growth capital……more corp. pork that do nothing to improve productivity or push the technological envelope just isn’t in the long-term interest of risk capital or labor.

Posted by HAPPY 02/11/2008 @ 10:12pm | ignore this person

Happy: unfortunately, not everything that investors want is good for most people. Paying corporations to not offshore labor, for instance, is a fine idea. Most of the country relies on the US economy having an actual physical economy, whereas the typical investor simply wants all production offshored and the resulting imports sold to American consumers on an endless credit line.Have to disagree with you about the Patriot Corporation Act, sounds great.

Posted by ZERO 02/11/2008 @ 11:32pm | ignore this person

Patriot Corporate Act? Just like UHC and going green, it all sounds good in theory (and on paper) until you apply it directly.This a total copout. Why should decent Americans use their hard earned tax dollars to pay greedy companies not to offshore their business? I say if those companies want to base their HQs and manufacturing facilities outside of the US, let them, and then make them pay heavy import tariffs.

Posted by ACOOK 02/11/2008 @ 11:53pm | ignore this person

That’s a great idea ACOOK, now if we could just figure out how to make those plans not drive the price of goods sold in the US (in the short term, if possibly not the long term) skyrocket as they make the U.S. consumer pay for those import tarrifs?

Posted by SHADOW MASTER 02/12/2008 @ 12:38am | ignore this person

Prediction markets now see Obama defeating ClintonMon Feb 11, 12:54 PM ETWASHINGTON (Reuters) – Traders wagering on the outcome of the U.S. presidential vote were overwhelmingly betting on Monday that Illinois Sen. Barack Obama will defeat former first lady Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination and ultimately win the presidency.Obama, whose campaign swept four state Democratic presidential contests against Clinton over the weekend, was trading at about 70 on Monday on the Dublin, Ireland-based Intrade predictions market, meaning traders gave him a 70 percent chance of being the Democrats’ presidential candidate in the November election.Clinton, who replaced her campaign manager in a staff shake-up, was selling at about 30, meaning traders gave her a 30 percent chance of winning the Democratic nomination, data on the Intrade web site showed.

Traders on the Iowa Electronic Markets, a nonprofit exchange run by researchers at the University of Iowa, had similar expectations, giving Obama a 70 percent chance of winning the nomination and Clinton about a 27 percent chance.

—Yep, after crushing defeats by eye-popping margins in the Potomac Primaries and the following week in Wisconsin and Hawaii, Hillary’s campaign is gonna be pretty much Post Toastee’d.

Just add milk and enjoy.


Posted by B_KOOL_66 02/12/2008 @ 12:53am | ignore this person

ACOOK, So tariffs are better than jobs? And within the WTO framework how do you make these corporation specific tariffs work?This was a good thing for me to read. I need things from time to time that highlight Obama’s strengths. It would be better to not be party to free trade deals with countries with low or no labor standards, but you would have to make that kind of change gradually, so this is good in the meantime.May I suggest that Obama talk about this a little more and talk about change and unity a little less. Focusing on bills like this have to be a part of a succesful nomination strategy.I am wondering what moves by Clinton suggest to Sherrod Brown that she is moving away from Bill’s record on trade? I am willing to trust Brown on this matter but I would feel better if I knew the details. I am worried that what he is engaged in is the activity of not tearing either candidate down because they might be the nominee. I certainly see no reason, given her fundraising base, to think that she will be anything but a NAFTA democrat if elected.

Posted by DENTEDPAT 02/12/2008 @ 01:11am | ignore this person

Feels good to beat Mask with his: “What, the same Sherrod Brown showing concern for human rights after voting for the Torture Amendment!!!???!!!??!”Posted by OUSTBUSH 03/16/2007 @ 12:26pm | ignore this personPosted by OUSTBUSH 03/16/2007 @ 12:26pmGood for you!After all, if Sherrod stays loyal on “anti-globalism”…what’s a few tortured detainees to get him in the Senate, huh?

Posted by MASK 03/16/2007 @ 12:38pm | ignore this person

Richard Kim….do you READ “The Nation” or look at its website?

Just curious, because as I’ve stated (“ad nauseum” to some here)….this magazine both on its cover story of last week and in CONTINUEING banner ads…

is supporting Rep. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio)…who voted FOR the “Military Commissions Act”.

Of course, as was “explained” to me….he “had to” because otherwise it would have “given DeWine too much ammo to use against him”.

Posted by MASK 10/01/2006 @ 2:20p


“Sherrod Brown (D-OH) for Senate We can’t emphasize enough the importance of Sherrod Brown’s victory. Read my post about Brown from last night, and John Nichols’ recent Nation cover story.”

I know Ms vH loves Brown…for his anti-NAFTA stuff, but again, how does she explain his vote FOR the “torture bill”!?!!?

Posted by MASK 11/10/2006 @ 07:07am

Speaking of rigging the news….(this should set off a few here!)

I noticed that SOMEBODY at “The Nation” must have been reading my posts….the ads for Sherrod Brown have been pulled….uh, I mean…”their run was completed”.

(last time guys….but considering the hypocritical crap and LILLIAN dodges, I felt the need for a self-indulgent moment here!)

Posted by MASK 10/01/2006 @ 9:15pm

Again, has amnesia struck some here….

SHERROD BROWN…for instance? Newly-elected US Senator from Ohio, who defeated that evil Mike DeWine?

Voted FOR the “Military Commissions Act” (aka “torture bill”) and is STILL being praised by Katrina vanden Heuvel (BLOG | Posted 11/07/2006 @ 10:09pm –The New Senate Democrat) as the …

new Paul Wellstone?!?!?!

Posted by MASK 11/13/2006 @ 09:23am

Posted by DRHAMMER 09/13/2007 @ 08:20am

No, that’s MASKian query into Brown’s vote in support of the Military Commisssions Act or “torture bill”.

But hey, forgive and forget. The guys he allows tortured can get “free health care”!

Posted by MASK 09/13/2007 @ 09:22am

Posted by JOHN MAASCH 10/09/2007 @ 6:14pm

Well, JOHN remember that’s Sherrod “I’ll Vote For Torture If It Gets Me Elected & Then Come Out Against It AFTER I’m In Office” Brown!

Posted by MASK 10/09/2007 @ 7:29pm

BTW, what is Democratic US Senator Sherrod Brown saying about the HCBA….and why he’s going to overturn Representative Sherrod Brown’s vote FOR the Military Commissions Act last year???

Posted by MASK 06/14/2007 @ 12:22pm

Posted by FROSTY ZOOM 02/12/2008 @ 02:03am | ignore this person

MASK:just teasin’, brother.you’re right to point out the man’s hypocrisy and i respect you for that.fz

Posted by FROSTY ZOOM 02/12/2008 @ 02:05am | ignore this person

That’s a great idea ACOOK, now if we could just figure out how to make those plans not drive the price of goods sold in the US (in the short term, if possibly not the long term) skyrocket as they make the U.S. consumer pay for those import tarrifs?Posted by SHADOW MASTER 02/12/2008 @ 12:38amgee, weren’t those things made in the u.s.a. 5 years ago?oh yeah, i forgot that 30 trillion in consumobiznizguvmint debt requires that inflation be hidden by exploiting po’ folk overseas.btw tariffs are a bad idea.

Posted by FROSTY ZOOM 02/12/2008 @ 02:08am | ignore this person

Posted by FROSTY ZOOM 02/12/2008 @ 02:03amThanks FROSTY…..couldn’t have said it better myself!heheh

Posted by MASK 02/12/2008 @ 09:07am | ignore this person

Read all of the comments and post a reply.

OLDER << Avoiding a Convention Train Wreck
Katrina vanden Heuvel
Welcome to Editor’s Cut. Expect no major manifestos or sweeping pronouncements. This weblog will be more of a running journal recording thoughts on politics, reporting on events, and offering riffs and reflections on what’s in the news and what’s not (but should be).Photo Credit: Michael Lorenzini
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