Sherrod Brown Backs Dems In Wisconsin — And Encourages Hardball In Ohio

Ohio’s senior senator praised state Democrats in Wisconsin on Friday for taking a firm stand against legislation to roll back public worker rights. And he said he expects to see similar opposition from Dems in his own state to legislation making its way through the Ohio legislature that mirrors the controversial Wisconsin bill.

“I think they’re going to fight back, and I think they’re figuring right now what to do,” Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) told me during an interview in his Capitol Hill office.

Brown, a progressive, and committed supporter of organized labor, said that the only way for Democrats to beat back Republican plans to end collective bargaining for public sector workers is by maximizing their leverage.“When these guys aren’t having real hearings, they’re not really listening to the public, they’re using a problem to go on an ideological rant — and you play hardball,” Brown explained. “That’s what Democrats in Wisconsin are doing as they should.”

Brown characterized the fight as part of a broader theme in conservative politics.

“Conservative politicians have always blamed the victim,” Brown said. “It’s minorities’ problems for civil rights issues. It’s environmentalists’ problems on the environment. It’s really always somebody else’s fault. It’s never the people responsible. It’s never the bankers. It’s never the way the legislation’s done. It’s always the workers.”

Dems in Wisconsin have an ace up their sleeve. The state’s Senate rules require a supermajority presence to constitute a quorum. Dems lost the majority in November, but their minority is large enough to block Senate business completely and indefinitely. That’s what they’re doing now, and they say they won’t back down until Gov. Scott Walker’s bill is shelved. “Maybe Walker’s gotta deal,” Brown said.

In Ohio, Dems don’t have that advantage. But Brown says they should use whatever tools they do have.

U.S. Senate rules prevent members from lobbying on state legislation, so there are some lines Brown can’t cross. But he says he’s open to working with state Dems or protesters in a show of solidarity.

“I’ve not really worked with them yet on this, I will work with them when they ask.”

Whether they can win or not, though, is still an open question.

“I don’t know what the endgame is any more than I know the endgame of the budget here,” Brown admitted. “But I think that people are realizing [it’s about] ‘whose side are you on?’ I think the voters are getting a clear picture of that and will choose sides, and most of them will chose our side. Doesn’t mean legislatively that our side will prevail.”