Senator Rob Portman was my guest this morning. He’s quietly built a commanding lead ofver a flailing, failing Ted Strickland, the defeated (and failed) former governor of Ohio, but Harry Reid is throwing tens of millions at Portman because the Senate simply doesn’t run blue if Portman wins re-election. Send him a contribution via www.RobPortman.com, and follow him on Twitter: @robportman.
HH: As all of you across the United States know, though, that the most important United States Senate race is in my home state of Ohio. It features incumbent Republican Senator Rob Portman, author, among other things, of the Comprehensive Addiction Recovery Act, and just generally regarded as one of the workhorses in the United States Senate against the former failed governor of Ohio, Ted Strickland, referred by me as Retread Ted. The Real Clear average, Real Clear Politics average of polls in the state shows Rob Portman up 5.8. The most recent poll, Quinnipiac, shows Rob Portman extending his lead to 9 points. Senator Portman joins me this morning from Ohio. Senator, welcome, good to speak to you.
RP: Hugh, thanks for having me on.
HH: Is it true that Harry Reid is spending $25-40 million dollars against you? They want the Buckeye State so badly to go blue?
RP: Yeah, I think we’re the target, Hugh, and it makes sense, because probably the majority in Congress, in the United States Senate, will be determined by a couple of states, and one is Ohio. So yeah, the Democrats have spent more money in Ohio than any other state, and Harry Reid’s PAC in particular has been running negative attack ads which happen to be false as well non-stop. So you know, we’re being targeted, but we’re also responding. And we’ve got a great grassroots effort, as you know from having been in Ohio. We’ve got thousands of volunteers. We had 1,500 folks helping us as volunteers over the weekend contacting over 100,000 Ohioans with door knocks and phone calls. So we’re fighting back on the ground, and I’m really excited about the campaign, because we’re getting a lot of good response.
HH: Now Ted Strickland is unique in a lot of ways. If he were to win in an upset and come back somehow nine points, he would be the oldest freshman senator in history at 75. He would also be, I believe, the first senator ever elected who had lost 350,000 jobs while governor, and a defeated governor at that. I mean, and the only one to insult the legacy of an American legal giant, and I mean, those Scalia comments of his were off the reservation, Rob Portman, truly distasteful.
RP: Yeah, they were, and not unusual. I mean, he’s made a number of comments that you know, seem to be over the line. And he continues to do it. So yeah, he’s got a terrible record as governor, and he also was a Congressman for 12 years and didn’t pass a single bill, which to me, is pretty unbelievable. That’s hard to do. So he does not have a record of accomplishment. He’s a partisan, he’s good at repeating the Democratic National Committee talking points, and he says every day, he gets more progressive. And so that’s a position that he’s taken, and that’s not where Ohio is. Ohioans like people who get stuff done. It’s a common sense conservative state. It’s a state that you know, is certainly purple, no question about it, but you know, people reward elected officials who actually get the work done and help them and their families, and that’s what we’ve been able to do over the last six years in the Senate, but also in my time in the House. And so we’re having a good time. We’re going around the state talking about our accomplishments, and we’ve gotten a lot of endorsements from groups that would typically endorse Democrats, because they’re looking for accomplishments, and specifically looking for people who are creating jobs.
HH: Let’s talk about that. I am myself a member of a union, the American Federation of Radio and Television Artists, and SAG, SAG-AFTRA, and so I’ve got, you know, I believe in organized labor. I’m from a union town, Warren, Ohio, and the unions matter a lot. You’ve managed to collect, as do most successful Republicans in Ohio, some union support. The Teamsters, we’ve talked about, but since then, the United Mine Workers of America, the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 18, and this one, the Ohio Fraternal Order of Police voted 297-10 to endorse you. Weren’t they Strickland supporters when he was governor?
RP: They were, and they supported him in his governor’s race. And they saw what they got. And I’m very honored to have the men and women in blue supporting me. We had a picnic the day before yesterday at the FOP lodge in Akron, Ohio, and had a chance to talk to them about how much we appreciate their service, and you know, what they’re doing for all of us to keep us safe, but also talked about some of the issues. And you know, they care a lot about these issues. By the way, I went around and talked to every police officer who was a patrol officer or involved with, some of them wore plain clothes, involved with burglary or other crimes, and I said what’s your top issue? And Hugh, every single one of them said the same thing to me, which won’t surprise you having been in Ohio. They said heroin. They said Rob, you know, we’re tired of dealing with this issue. People are getting into trouble. We get them in prison, they’re right back in trouble again. And they supported our legislation you mentioned earlier, the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act partly because of that. Also, because we supplied them with more training on how to use Narcan and other better access to the Narcan, this miracle drug that can reverse the effects of an overdose. But yeah, police officers are looking for folks who are going to stand with them, but also people who would deal with some of these tough issues they’re dealing with every day. And they’re on the line. They’re in the trenches, and God bless them.
HH: You know, Senator Portman, every day I would walk from the Hyatt in Cleveland over to the Convention Center and would be greeted when I got there, and I’d get there at, you know, 5:00 in the morning, by Ohio Highway Patrol Sergeant David Grooms, who lived in Cincinnati, had come up from Cincinnati, left his three small kids and his wife down there. Sgt. Grooms and I got to be buddies. He’s a true pro. I mean, he’s been wearing the funny hat, the campaign hat, for ten-plus years, extraordinary group of policemen there in the Ohio Highway Patrol. I mean, they’ve been in my back lights a few times, but they’ve been fair. And law enforcement feels left out of this election. I mean, they really do feel like, Donald Trump was talking about it in Wisconsin last night. I think everybody needs to talk about the guys in blue, and getting the endorsement of the FOP is a big deal in Ohio.
RP: Yeah, absolutely, and by the way, they did a fantastic job in Cleveland.
RP: You know, to keep the demonstrators separated, keep things calm, nobody expected it would be so successful, and the reason it happened, and as you know, I was a big proponent of getting the convention to Cleveland. It’s great for the city, great for the economy. But we were worried, frankly, about the protests becoming violent. Police officers kept the calm, and actually, there were 38 Akron police officers up there, I learned the other day when I was with the Akron police officers. But it’s true. I spoke to the people in charge of security overall, the folks at the U.S. Secret Service who do these nationally significant events. They told me, Rob, the police officers and highway patrol did a fantastic job. They thought they did the best job of any event that they had ever organized. And so hat’s off to them, because they kept us safe, and they allowed people to protest peacefully, which is exactly what should be permitted. But they avoided the violence that you know, otherwise has marred too many of these kinds of events. So it was a great day for our men and women in blue.
HH: Now I also want to talk about one hyper-local issue, and I was researching the call today, and discovered the Lake Erie algae blooms problem…
HH: And this is actually a problem also down in Brazil. It’s everywhere. It’s in Florida.
HH: And you’ve become a specialist in this. Now I love Lake Erie. I spent every summer of my youth in Saybrook, and I know Geneva on the Lake, and I know Ashtabula. And it went through its very bad years, and it came back. And now, it’s threatened again. What’s going on? What are you doing about it?
RP: Yeah, it’s a big deal. You know, the lake that, we call our great lake, Lake Erie, is the shallowest lake. It’s the warmest lake. It’s also the most fertile lake. It’s the best fishing in the $6 billion dollar fishing industry. It’s incredibly important to tourism in Ohio. It’s the number one tourist destination by far. That whole northern tier of Ohio depends on it to pour heavily in terms of the economy. And you know, it’s drinking water for four or five million people. So we’ve got to preserve it and protect it, and you’re right. It’s a lot cleaner than it used to be, and that’s great. It’s been terrific for Northern Ohio. But it is also now under siege by two things. One is invasive species. It’s so attractive that you know, everybody wants to be there, including the big head carp, the Asian carp that are coming up the river systems, including other invasive species, so we’re working hard on that. We’ve got some legislation that’s actually kept the carp out so far. And the other one is these algal blooms. And algal blooms are expected in any body of water, but these are toxic algal blooms, and they have the toxicity that makes it impossible for people to drink the water if it gets too toxic, which is happening in Toledo, Ohio. As you know Sunday before last, 500,000 people without drinking water. It was a real crisis. But also, they keep the fishermen out and keep the boaters out, and you can’t swim in it. You don’t want your dog even to swim in it if it gets bad enough. So we are working hard on that. We’ve passed legislation for the first time to include the Great Lakes as part of national legislation to monitor it and to get better information about it using NOAA satellites, using the EPA better and the U.S. Department of Agriculture better to stop some of the run off that’s helping to cause this, and also to help mediate it. And then we actually passed additional legislation, I was co-author of both of these bills, to deal with the water issue to make sure that the local communities know how to treat the water, how to test the water, and how to keep the algal blooms out of the water. So this year, it turns out, Hugh, it’s a little better. We did not have the big problem we had last year and two years ago. And frankly, it was because we did not have all of the run off from early in the season as we had those previous two years where you bring nitrogen and phosphorous into the lake. But you know, I’m encouraged, because we finally have the federal government working better as a better partner with state and local government to deal with this issue.
HH: Now it’s always dangerous to ask Senator Rob Portman a question. I sat down at lunch with him a couple of months ago near Ashland University, and we talked about the heroin epidemic, and I learned a lot. But it took a while. I’ve only got two minutes, and I hesitate, but I want to know. What causes an algal bloom? What is this?
RP: Well, this particular kind, the toxic algal bloom, is mostly nitrogen and phosphorous coming into a body of water. They feed on that, and they, you know, warm weather also contributes to it. It’s a warmer water, Lake Erie being warmer, contributes to it. So it’s, you know, it’s naturally occurring, but when it gets out of hand, it creates all these problems. And so you know, we have a responsibility on a national level to deal with it. We have at least four states involved, and of course, candidates involved. We have a pact with Michigan and Indiana, for instance, on some of the, again, some of the water coming into the lake. You’ve got to be sure that there’s not run off particularly from farms or from golf courses or even from lawns that has a lot of fertilizer in it. Sometimes, it’s true if it combines with river overflow as a problem. You can imagine that with the nitrogen and then combines with river flows during a time of heavy rain, just like we’ve got now in many parts of the state. So these are issues that have to be addressed, and the federal government has a role to play to be a better partner with the local government, and with state government to deal with it.
HH: That’s good news, and congratulations on that, along with CARA. That’s a big deal. Let’s close and talk a little politics. You’ve got to go around Ohio to ask people for their votes. I know you’re doing the RV thing. I hope you’ve been to Trumbull County, see Sammy Covelli, Rob Guaneiry, the Phillips brothers, all these different people.
HH: Have you been over to Trumbull?
RP: (laughing) Yeah, we were in Youngstown in Trumbull County, the Mahoning Valley generally. We’ll be back again next week. And yeah, it’s an area where we’re working hard, because there are a lot of voters there who might be nominally Democrats, but they are, as I mentioned earlier, common sense conservative. These are conservative people who believe in fiscal conservatism as we do, and really want to get the economy moving. And let’s face it. I don’t care what President Obama says. The last two quarters, 1% growth, it’s terrible. And people in the Mahoning Valley are feeling it. It’s the middle class squeeze. Wages are flat, and expenses are up. And by the way, Obamacare and health care is the worst problem on the expense side, and just had another insurer, Aetna, pull out of Ohio yesterday because the Obamacare exchanges are so bad that the insurance companies can’t make any money, so they’re pulling out. And that leaves families in Ohio with, you know, high and dry. I mean, they don’t have insurance, and they don’t have the competition, because you don’t have the various insurance companies in there. So we’re spending time in the Mahoning Valley, and we’re going to fight for every vote.
HH: It’ll be the big fight of 2017, fixing the disaster that is Obamacare. Rob Portman, hopefully, you’re back in the Senate doing that. www.robportman.com, America, follow him on Twitter, @RobPortman.
End of interview.