CLEVELAND, Ohio — Rep. Betty Sutton (D-Ohio) is a former labor lawyer and state lawmaker who has spent most of the last two decades in the public sector.
Sutton won a seat on the Barberton, Ohio city council in 1991 and later served in the Ohio General Assembly. Term-limited in 2000, Sutton moved on to work as a labor lawyer before running for Congress in 2006 when then-Rep. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) ran for the U.S. Senate.
Sutton faces Rep. Jim Renacci (R-Ohio) in one of two incumbent-vs.-incumbent races this year and she’s facing more than $1 million in attack ads paid for by Renacci and outside Republican and pro-business groups.
2chambers spoke with Sutton on Wednesday and our conversation — edited for clarity and length — appears below:
2chambers: I’ve been watching ads since I arrived in the Cleveland region and you appear to be one of just a few state or federal candidates not on the air. Are you airing ads yet?
Sutton: My campaign has not put ads on the air yet and you know, this is a race where my opponents are clearly trying to stack the deck against me. The Republicans in Columbus and Washington drew this district for my opponent.
We’ve seen Republican super PACs pour millions of dollars into this race. The Congressional Leadership Fund is spending $1.1 million against me. And they know it’s because I can win. As I said, I’ve never seen a poll that shows me behind, and they’re getting worried and their attacks are reflecting that they’re going to do everything they can to stop me.
But I know that Ohioans want a positive vision for the future and someone who’s proven that they can get things done. And I think that’s one of the things that people will embrace and cast their votes accordingly.
You’re part of the most unpopular, least productive Congress in modern history. How do you defend that record when voters ask about it? And why do you want to be part of such an unpopular institution?
I know that every Ohioan regardless of party simply wants to succeed and create a better life for their kids. I went into public service because I wanted to make a difference.
Sadly, we haven’t seen that at all from the Republican House this year, or from my opponent, Congressman Renacci. We’ve seen them put millionaires and party leaders before the people of northeast Ohio. And I think they deserve better and that people will vote for someone who will be their voice, not for someone who will be the voice for themselves or the well-connected.
My opponent has said something to the effect of that since he’s come to Congress they’ve been able to stop President Obama from doing anything, he’s not able to do anything now. I don’t think that’s what people are looking for. They’re looking for people who reach across the aisle who will work on things that make our country stronger.
But if Mitt Romney wins the presidency and you’re reelected, can you vow not to “block” his policies as you claim Republicans have done to President Obama?
I came into Congress under a Republican president and I could have thrown my hands up and said I’m not going to work to make things better, of course I wouldn’t do that. My service is for the people of northeast Ohio, the constituents who sent me to Washington and from day one I fought to clean up Washington, passing some ethics reforms that were a long time in the making. Pushing back when necessary on both parties to cut off gifts and perks to woo legislators.
And in that first term, I was able, under a Republican president, to work with colleagues on the other side of the aisle to get these stop-loss protections for troops who were being kept on extended tours of duty. And I was also able to work with my colleagues in my second term — of course we had President Obama as a president then — to protect jobs in the auto industry and manufacturing.
When do you think the partisan gridlock began?
I think we’ve seen people running for several years who want to be part of government by running against government. But I think in this last election cycle we saw a number of people come into Washington saying that they wanted to stop governing, which is a difference between some of what we saw before.
Frankly, my opponent is among them – they’ve successfully put a lot of dysfunction in the Congress so that we aren’t getting things accomplished that would get our economy moving in the right direction.
You’re in one of the two incumbent-vs.-incumbent House races this cycle? (The other is the Tom Latham (R) vs. Leonard Boswell (D) race in Iowa that #5in5 profiled in August). What’s it like running against a colleague?
It doesn’t change my job. I’ve lived in northeast Ohio my entire life. I know that working and middle class families in northeast Ohio, regardless of where the boundaries fall, work for them and not themselves.
They’re just looking for somebody who cares for them, is working for them and will fight as hard as they can for them. That’s what I’m here to offer.
Your opponent filed a complaint with the Ohio Elections Commission regarding an ad that claims he voted to cut off federal funding for cancer screening. He’s airing ads that note that he’s a cancer survivor and would never do such a thing. Why are those types of ads being run?
It’s a DCCC [Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee] ad.
Well, would you ask the DCCC to stop running it?
I think that the ad speaks for itself. I understand it, the woman who appears in the DCCC’s ad is indeed telling her story and I think that she has every right to do that. I am glad certainly that Rep. Renacci has been successful in his treatment and I that’s what his ad expresses.
But you don’t plan to ask them to stop it?
I can’t coordinate with the DCCC what to run in their ads. It’s beyond the law and I wouldn’t do that.
One of the ads running against you says you’ve voted with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) 99 percent of the time? Is that true?
I think that you’ve probably have seen the Politi-Fact Checks on these types of claims in the past. Certainly the answer is no, it’s not true.
[Editor’s Note: The Sutton campaign noted that Sutton has voted with House Democrats 94 percent of the time, according to OpenCongress and The Washington Post Congressional Votes Database. But our database also notes that she voted with House Democrats 99 percent of the time during the 111th Congress.]
If she runs again for Democratic Leader, do you plan to support Mrs. Pelosi?
I supported her in the last election, I think we’re far off from that, but I expect that I probably would if she’s running.
Who is your favorite Republican? Who do you work with most often?
It depends on the issue on the other side of the aisle.
One of the individuals who we saw leave two years ago was Sen. George Voinovich, who I had the honor of serving with in the State House when he was governor. He and I spoke on the plane quite frequently on the differences between then and now in Ohio when we had a governor who was a Republican, a Speaker of the House who was a Democrat and a president of the Senate who was a Republican. And though we had different ideas on how to achieve things, there was a common understanding that we had a responsibility to govern. And there’s that responsibility to govern that’s been lacking under the leadership of the Republican-controlled House in this Congress.
With respect to the Ohio delegation, one of the things that took some people by surprise, or was out of the ordinary, was my colleague Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio) from the Dayton area on one occasion as we were fighting to try and protect some jobs in his district, good Ohio jobs at DHL, actually said to the press that because I was standing with him and fighting this fight on behalf of Ohio jobs that I was one of his heroes.
Have you worked with Jim Renacci on an Ohio issue or any other issue?
I haven’t necessarily. He and I haven’t shared a lead cosponsorship on legislation, but we’ve voted alike on some legislation that has come through the House. And he has been part of delegation letters that I have been on on some Ohio initiatives.
How is President Obama going to win Ohio?
I think that Ohioans are looking for someone who has a positive vision. That’s what I’m hearing in my race, who is looking forward to try and reach for our potential. The greatest part about having a place in service is trying to reach forward for the potential of our people and the opportunities that are before us and that we can create and spur.
I think that people don’t want a government on their back, but they do want a government on their side and in any race – from president, to congress to local races – that those are going to be the characteristics that voters are going to respond to.
What else should we know?
I think it’s very clear that we’re very different representatives with different visions. He supports the Ryan-Renacci budget that would end Medicare as we know it, turn it into a voucher program and result in seniors paying more, up to on average $6,400. I believe in making sure we protect and preserve Medicare. He has voted repeatedly to protect tax breaks for outsourcing companies and that budget would provide tax breaks for the super-rich. He was recruited to vote for that budget by Paul Ryan and has put that before what I think is in the best interest of Ohio voters.
What have we seen from Jim Renacci in this Congress? Questionable ethics, voting for trade deals that doesn’t benefit northeastern Ohio, and voting to end Medicare as we know it.