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2018 was a big election year in Ohio. Republicans held onto all five statewide executive offices including governor and super majorities in both the Ohio House and Senate. But there were a few bright spots for Democrats, among them the reelection of U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown and the election of two Democrats to the Ohio Supreme Court.With election 2018 over, the focus now shifts to governing. Stay connected with the latest on politics, policies and people making the decisions at all levels affecting your lives.

Trade and Infrastructure Could Be The Bridge Between Trump and Brown

Bridges in Ohio

Ohio’s Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown is among those criticizing President-elect Donald Trump’s choice of a top counselor. But, as WKSU’s M.L. Schultze reports, he’s also looking for ways to work with the Trump administration on issues he says are vital to his voters and Trump’s.

Sen. Sherrod Brown was a big backer of Hillary Clinton and no fan of Donald Trump. And he sees Trump’s appointment of Breitbart news executive Steve Bannon as a sign of what he feared most from a Trump administration, including racist thread running through the national dialogue.

But Brown recognizes the strength of Trump’s economic argument to Ohioans and sees strong parallels with his own positions—including his long opposition to trade deals like NAFTA and the Trans-Pacific Partnership or TPP.

“But I also look at the new administration through the lens of how does it serve Ohio. (Trump) said the right things about NAFTA and TPP. I have spoken at length with the Trump transition team chief on trade issues. I know him, he’s the former CEO of Nucor, which has a (nonunion) plant in Marion, Ohio. … And we’re talking about how I can help them renegotiate NAFTA, how I can help him pull out of the Trans Pacific Partnership and how I can help the new administration in more aggressive enforcement of trade rules.”

Brown says there are “three particularly troublesome” parts of NAFTA:

The rules of origin, “which allows counties and manufacturers outside of the NAFTA countries – Canada, Mexico and the U.S. – to assemble major components and major parts and then sell it back with little or no tariff protection.”

He also objects to corporate courts “where a country can sue a government and a special corporate court made up of trade lawyers … can attack and auto safety law, for instance.”

And he maintains the labor standards are far too week. “In Mexico, they really don’t have free-trade unions; they’re pretty much government-controlled trade unions, and you know that means a weaker union that cares more about sometimes a corrupt government than it does the workers in those plants.”

Building bridges or playing games?
Another area where Brown and Trump may find common ground is on investment in infrastructure, similar to proposals of President Obama that stalled in the GOP-led Congress over the last five years.

“The president-elect seems to be mostly where the Democrats are on this to build real infrastructure and invest real dollars when interest rates are low. … I’m on board; I want to see us do more infrastructure.

But “I don’t want to play games with them; I don’t want to do infrastructure and use it to weaken environmental laws on road projects or use it to undercut wages by repealing prevailing wage. If the president-elect’s straight-forward on infrastructure and really funds it and really does it right and does it in the traditional way here, we’re going to see a major improvement in water and sewer and highways and bridges and airports and community colleges and medical research and all the things society invests in.”

He acknowledges there’s concern that the wrong combination of spending and tax cuts could lead to the low-growth/high-inflation combination known as stagflation.

“The party that claims fiscal responsibility in caring about the budget deficits, the Republicans, has always been the party that blew a hole in the deficit. I don’t want that to happen again.

“We’ve got the economy moving in the right direction now. The budget deficit is coming down and I don’t want to blow a hole in it again. And if this new administration and a Republican Congress (adopts) more tax cuts for the rich and then a bunch of infrastructure spending that’s not paid for, we’ll go right back to that.”

Losing Democrats
His own party lost both houses of Congress as well as the White House on Nov. 8, and there’s been a lot of criticism since of the Democrats “shallow bench” of top leadership. Brown maintains after every election, there’s such criticism. “I always take that with a grain of salt.”

I think that Ohioans are tired of having six out of the last seven times a Republican governor where our economic growth is worse than the national average. We’ve seen an under-funding of public education. We rank 47th or 48th or 49th or 50th -- depending on how you measure -- in infant mortality.

“So I think people are ready for a change and it’s up to Ddemocrat to have the right people on the ballot in `18 with real ideas about how to fix this.”

Brown, who is the only statewide elected Democrat in Ohio, expects tens of millions of dollars in outside money to be spent against him when he runs for re-election in 2018.

M.L. Schultze is a freelance journalist. She spent 25 years at The Repository in Canton where she was managing editor for nearly a decade, then served as WKSU's news director and digital editor until her retirement.