Thursday, April 15, 2010

Brunner the Best for Ohio Democrats

Democratic voters have an excellent chance this fall to send a strong new voice to Washington as Ohio’s next U. S. senator. Almost from the day George Voinovich announced in January 2009 that he would retire at the end of his term this year, it was clear that Democrats would be choosing their nominee between two of their best state officials, Lt. Governor Lee Fisher and Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner.

The last 15 months of head-to-head political campaigning have made two things clear: Jennifer Brunner would be a stronger Democratic standard bearer against the Republican nominee in November, and Jennifer Brunner would be a stronger US Senator for Ohio and the nation.

When voters are faced with two strong and capable candidates who hold roughly similar political views, who to vote for becomes less a matter of policy positions and more a question of character and style. This is perhaps especially true when the electoral prize is one of just a hundred seats in the US Senate, often referred to as “the world’s most exclusive club”.

Ohio’s Democratic leaders seem to have had that paradigm of exclusivity in mind as they fell into near lockstep behind Fisher. For Gov. Strickland on down through the party apparatus of Democratic state legislators, county party chairs and the rest of the old guard party hierarchy, Fisher has been the sanctioned choice.

That he would serve capably there is really no doubt. He is an experienced legislator and was a very good Ohio attorney general. He is a well-seasoned politician who would fit easily in the Senate. He is a prolific fundraiser, but is a two-edged sword. The ability to put big-time contributors at ease seems to make even the best-intentioned politicians less like public servants and more like leaders who follow lobbyists. In the wake of the recent abominable Citizens United decision by the US Supreme Court that seems to encourage unprecedented corporate intrusion into the electoral process, this is likely to be an even larger problem.

Brunner is much less likely to be a handmaiden to the corporate interests that dominate the club. For starters, she hasn’t been a career politician, having been in public office only since 2000, when she ran successfully for common pleas judge in Franklin County. Two years later, she was re-elected, serving about six years before resigning to run statewide for Secretary of State.

Notwithstanding her relative freshness as a public official, Brunner, 53, possesses considerable political savvy. She worked four years for Sherrod Brown in the mid-eighties when the latter was Ohio’s Secretary of State. Additionally, she represented many elected officials during her private practice on issues involving election law and campaign finance. She was an innovative judge in Franklin County, not from the standpoint of being an “activist” judge, but as a jurist who sought to improve the system by working with her colleagues. We think she can help President Obama do the same in Washington.

My direct observations of Brunner in different settings — as public official and on the campaign trail — suggest that she is a thoughtful and committed public servant, both open and approachable. She gets the idea of servant leadership. She acts from a strong and secure principled base, with more quiet tenacity and much less bombast than most politicians. What you see in public is likely what you will get in private.

Probably no place is that attribute more significant — and rare — than in the US Senate. Our local daily, in its weakly-supported endorsement of Fisher, suggested that he was more likely to get along in the clubby Senate than she. No doubt. But it’s not clear why that was a virtue.

Ohio has never sent a woman to the US Senate, where women are outnumbered by worse than four-to-one. And it should be noted that among GOP senators, it is the women senators from Maine who are the least doctrinaire and partisan. As the junior US senator, we think Brunner would be inside the room, but more likely than most to insist that the door be open for the public interest.

All the Democratic bigwigs are behind Lee Fisher in this race. That Brunner has neither bent, buckled nor broken in the face of the behind-the-scenes bullying is telling. She has stayed the course in the race, connected with voters in large settings and small, campaigning with a quiet ease and grace that have been impressive.

While some who have worked with her express concern about her administrative skills, she has run an impressive and imaginative campaign with far fewer resources than her opponent. She is clearly but quietly a formidable candidate. If she wins the nomination, she will have an outstanding to chance to win in November and become an equally formidable Senator for progressive issues.

Democrats who have yet to cast their primary votes should put Brunner at the top of the ticket. President Obama told us during the campaign that he could not bring change by himself. Nominating Jennifer Brunner as Ohio’s Democratic candidate for Senator would signal change about the role of money in campaigns, and address the concerns of many local Democrats about fostering a more open and transparent party process.

Party rank-and-filers: if you want to feel better about your party and your choice -- both in November and for the next six years – vote for Brunner.

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