MyDD Interview with Lee Fisher
by Jonathan Singer, Wed Jul 29, 2009 at 10:28:57 AM EDT
Last Wednesday I had the opportunity to speak with Ohio's Democratic Lieutenant Governor Lee Fisher, a candidate for his party's Senatorial nomination for the open seat race in 2010.
Fisher and I covered a number of issues, with the candidate expressing his support for the public option (and unwillingness, as of that point, to support any bill that did not include a public option), the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor, and the Employee Free Choice Act. Fisher also stated that he counts himself among the vast majority of Americans who understand and know that Barack Obama was born in the United States of America. Here is the rush transcript of our conversation:
Jonathan Singer: What do you as the path to victory in a general election, you versus the friend of George Bush? Maybe that is the path...
Lee Fisher: Well, that is part of the path. I think the path to victory is a number of things. Number one, speaking directly to what people care most about, and that is turning around the economy; creating jobs, saving jobs, attracting jobs; and making sure that people understand that their next Senator cares about them in terms of putting food on the table, paying their bills, making sure the rules are fair, and that they're going to have an opportunity, not only for themselves but for their kids. To me, that's what it's all about. It's all about stabilizing the economy, and then making sure that Ohio actually prospers in a way that every family gets an opportunity to achieve their dreams. And that's number one.
The second is to show the contrast between Lee Fisher and Rob Portman. And the fact that Rob Portman and George Bush brought us eight years of disastrous trade policies and economic policies that got us into the deepest economic ditch in most of our lifetimes, and that the worst possible thing we could do would be to move backwards and go back to the same people and the same policies that got us into this mess. And there is no candidate in America today running for office on the Republican side who is more closely tied to George Bush, because Portman was one of the chief architects of Bush's trade and economic policies. So some Republicans might be able to run away from Bush. Rob Portman cannot.
Singer: Can you spell out some more of the issue of trade? I know that is something that Sherrod Brown hammered on in 2006 en route to a double-digit victory. You talked about Rob Portman having been Trade Representative. Can you spell out that issue a little more, and why that will matter to Ohioans?
Fisher: Because the trade policies that Rob Portman put together were trade policies that actually encouraged and incentivized the outsourcing of jobs. It's the exact wrong approach.
During my years as economic development director for Ohio, I focused on insourcing jobs - bringing jobs in from other countries, negotiating with wind and solar companies from around the world, steel companies from Russia, to create Ohio jobs employing Ohioans. And I've also promoted exports of goods to other countries.
What I don't like is unconditional free trade that doesn't have labor, environmental and safety standards, and in a sense I think tilts the playing field in favor of other countries at the expense of American workers. So bottom line is I'm for fair trade. I don't want to put fences around Ohio's or America's borders. But I do want to make sure that we have a level playing field that does everything we can to bring jobs in, not take jobs out.
Singer: To those that may see the 2006 cycle and, to an extent, the 2008 cycle as an aberration - the two Democrats at the top of the ticket, your ticket included, winning by 10-20 points in 2006 and a much narrower for Barack Obama in 2008; they think maybe Ohio is bound to go in the other direction in 2010 - do you think that 2006 and 2008 were aberrations, or do they evidence a trend?
Fisher: They were not aberrations. I don't think there's any question they were not aberrations. Having said that, I expect this Senate race to be competitive. Nobody's going to win in a landslide here. This is going to be a close election. I think Ohio is trending more progressive, more Democrat, but it's a presidential battlefield because it is a tossup state. And no matter which way it trends, it always is fairly close to 50-50. So one year Democrats may have an advantage, another year Republicans may have an advantage.
I think we maintain that advantage. We built an infrastructure in the state since our election that is among the best Democratic infrastructures in the country. We have had elected public officials in office now since 2006 that are progressive, that have made a difference in people's lives and had a lot of successes. But having said that, I don't think there's any question that with a tough economy that means a closer election, and I think this will be competitive.
Singer: To the casual observer - not someone necessarily in Ohio but someone who's watching the race from another state or Washington, DC - why should the Democrats go with you rather than your competitor in the primary?
Fisher: First of all, I think the reason people are supporting me and should support me is that I've got a proven record of making a difference in people's lives and making change and being progressive over three decades. And I do think that the old adage, "Don't tell me what you believe, tell me what you've done and I'll tell you what you believe" is applicable here.
I think that if there was ever a time in the history of our country that we need people to be able to start on day one in an office like the U.S. Senate and be able to know how to tackle things and get things done, I think it's now. Having years of legislative experience, executive experience, experience in the nonprofit sector, experience in the private sector. I think all of those things, and most importantly getting things done and standing up and speaking out shows that this isn't just rhetoric, this isn't just speeches, this is stuff that I've done that I think proves that I can be the kind of Senator that Ohioans deserve.
And in terms of winning, no one works harder than me. I work day and night. I always have. No one's ever outworked me, and no one will ever outwork me. And I never give up. I am somebody who I think is able to not only get the resources but to inspire the support that I think will be necessary to win.
Singer: Are there policy differences? Leaving aside the politics, are there any policy differences that people should know about?
Fisher: I will tell you that I don't think there are any significant policy differences that I'm aware of. I think there are very significant differences in terms of experience and a record of accomplishment. But I'm not aware of significant policy differences at this point in the campaign.
Singer: Let me ask you about some things up on the Hill. What's your feeling about Sonia Sotomayor's nomination? Should George Voinovich vote in favor of it?
Fisher: Yes he should vote in favor of it. I think that every Senator should vote in favor of it regardless of political party and regardless of ideology. Because the test here shouldn't be whether or not she is liberal, conservative or independent. The test should be somebody who is an accomplished jurist who has a respect for the majesty of the law, who will show the appropriate judicial restraint but at the same time not when she puts on her robe not be someone who forgets her roots, forget where she comes from. And I think it's very important that when somebody puts on that black robe they understand that they have an awesome amount of power over people's lives. And they need to stay humble. They need to stay focused on the fact that the impact of their decisions can be generational.
I think she has proven, not only in her testimony but during her years as a judge that she will be a phenomenal Supreme Court Justice that all Senators should support.
Singer: Hopefully the healthcare reform will occur before you go to the Senate, but if you were there voting today or if you were voting on the issue in the next six years, what are your feelings on healthcare reform?
Fisher: First of all that it's absolutely necessary. Having been on the ground for the last two and a half years and doing all that I can to grow Ohio's economy, I am convinced that we cannot turn around the national economy without dealing with healthcare reform. It's an economic issue - it's not just a social issue.
So I applaud Barack Obama for tackling it early on in his administration and keeping everybody's feet to the fire.
There are four things that need to be done: lower costs; preserve and expand choice of your own doctor, of your own plan, of your own hospital, and that includes having a public option, which is absolutely necessary to keep the private insurers honest and bring competitive to lower costs; it includes making sure that we focus on expanding coverage to the uninsured; and it means doing everything we can do to focus on quality of care and particularly on preventative care, which in the long run is the single best way to reduce costs in the healthcare system. Like a law professor I once had said, better to have a fence at the top of the cliff than an ambulance below. And I think preventive care is the fence at the top of the cliff.
Singer: If you were voting now, would you support any bill that didn't have a public option? Or would you be part of the coalition that would not support a bill that does not have a public option?
Fisher: As of today I would not support a bill without a public option. I think it's that important. Are there circumstances where if I felt there was a situation where we could get everything else that we wanted but we might have to get the public option in a different way I might be open to it. But my feeling is that's a last resort, not a first resort.
Singer: On employee free choice there has been some movement, at least reportedly, of getting rid of card check. First of all, are you in favor of card check? And more broadly, the Employee Free Choice Act, with or without it, what are your feelings?
Fisher: I support the Employee Free Choice Act. I support card check. I would be supportive of a compromise only if it was one that preserved the basic principles of employee free choice and if leaders of labor and business came to a mutual agreement. A compromise is exactly that - it has to be a mutual compromise that's agreed upon by those who have initiated and supported the Employee Free Choice Act. If they don't agree with it, it would seem to me that it would be inconsistent with any sort of legitimate compromise. So the bottom line is that I'm for card check.
Singer: There's been a lot of division within the Republican Party lately. The Sotomayor nomination brings up issues of immigration reform, but we've also seen divisions in the base with a large birther movement - people who apparently believe Barack Obama wasn't born in America. Do you see those kind of divisions, those very extremist views, causing troubles for Rob Portman or the kind of ultra-right base pulling him too far to the right?
Fisher: I think that Rob Portman is a conservative who tries to portray himself as a moderate. But ideology is defined more by how you vote and what you've done than what you say. So when people of Ohio look at Rob Portman's record, they will see someone who has been very conservative, sometimes aligning themselves with the extreme of the party.
I think with regard to those who don't think Barack Obama was born in the United States, I don't think Rob Portman is part of that group. I don't have any reason to believe that he is. And that's so far extreme that I don't think that any reasonable Ohioan would support such nonsense.
Singer: So I take it to mean that you believe that Barack Obama was born in the United States.
Fisher: I believe he was born in the United States, yes I do.
Singer: Is there another initiative that we haven't touched on, a policy area that you think needs to be touched on or that you would bring particular focus to if elected?
Fisher: Obviously there are lots of issues that will come before the Senate this year, that will come before the Senate in 2011 and 2012. But I believe that the fundamentally most important issue is turning the national economy around; getting banks to start loaning to responsible homeowners, to responsible businesses, to stabilize neighborhoods whose homes have been foreclosed and neighborhoods have been devastated; to give I think an opportunity for people on main street to feel like their government actually cares about them, is watching and wants to partner with them.
And all the issues I focus on stem from those principles. So, sure, there's going to be lots of bills that I'll have an opinion on, lots of bills that I will vote on. But the issue that I care most about is giving the middle class, the working men and women of this country and this state the opportunity to achieve their potential and have fair rules and a fair level playing field in order to do so.
Singer: Final question. Do you have any particular message for the netroots, for the liberal blogs, people online who will be listening or reading this?
Fisher: Yes I do. I have watched the netroots over the last number of years and have been impressed and even awed by their ability to effect social change. You see it time and again, not just in politics but in grassroots organizing. I think it's wonderful for America, I think it's wonderful for democracy. I think that it has encouraged participation of people of all ages that otherwise would not have participated either because they were shut out or because they felt shut out. And in many ways it's sort of the essence of pure democracy, where people get the opportunity to communicate their views in a way that is free and unfettered, and regardless of whether or not you agree with those views they get to do it. That's what a democracy is all about.
So bottom line, I think it has a very important role in politics. It will have a very important role in our campaign. But more importantly I think it has a very important role in governing that may in the long run may be more important than the political piece. I think that the very fact that Barack Obama has continued to communicate with the netroots as a President is powerful testament to the importance of the netroots. Because he used it very effectively as a candidate. But the truth of the matter is he could have easily stopped once he became elected. He didn't because he recognizes that he will be a better President if he is actually listening to voices that ordinarily haven't had a seat at the table.