Puttin' Out the Bone

A Republican a Liberal can love

If you live on the East side of Cincinnati as I do, you should re-elect Tom Brinkman as your state representative. I'm serious.

See, I needed to add that, "I'm serious." On account of I'm about as liberal as, say, Che Guevara. And Tom's about as conservative as, say, J. Edgar Hoover. But I can make the case for a vote for him, especially if you're participating in Tuesday's Republican primary.

Look, I'm a yellow dog Democrat. That's a Southern expression for people who'd vote for the Democratic candidate even if the party put up an old yellow dog. It applies to us mindless, robotic voters who make our decisions not in our brains, but in our hearts ... in our philosophies.

So, no, I'm not voting for Brinkman.

I'll vote for the Democratic candidate. But just to show you that I'm a for-real columnist, I'll tell you that any Democrat running for that seat — over there where Mount Lookout meets Mount Washington, where Republicans like their lawns green and their schools private — is as likely to win in the general election as Pat DeWine going back to the wife he walked out on.

So the state representative is either going to be incumbent Tom Brinkman or challenger Greg Delev, a McNicholas High School graduate who practices law downtown.

But here's the case for Brinkman. First, he's a principled, likeable, dedicated, disciplined advocate for regular people, at least in his own way.

Once, when I was doing talk radio at WDBZ (1230 AM), I was on the panel for a candidates night and Brinkman was representing one of the issues on the ballot. We were on opposite sides, and I was asking him the hardest questions.

During a break, we were hanging out and I said, "Hey, Tom, I believe this town is run by a corporate oligarchy. You know, a bunch of blue suits down on Fourth Street, probably all members of the Cincinnati Business Committee. Do you think that?" He looks at me like he was really giving it consideration. He paused and said, "Yes."

There it was. Left meets right and shakes hands. It's textbook. Political ideas can be illustrated in a drawn line. If you keep drawing from the extremes, you just about meet in the middle. I'm a populist, and I think Brinkman is, as well. So the circle almost takes us to some same places.

Certainly not all the way. I mean, I hate charter schools and Brinkman loves them. I say they cherry pick the best students, rob public schools of scarce resources and produce lower test scores. Brinkman says they lead to freedom from a failing monopoly. I wouldn't give you a nickel for Ronald Reagan, and Brinkman probably has an altar to him in his house.

But just like me, Brinkman has been critical of George W. Bush — I almost always, he sometimes. Just like me, he sometimes rips the leadership of the Ohio Legislature.

That's really why he's got opposition. His opponent says he's not conservative enough, not Republican enough.

Take, for example, the death penalty. Brinkman is purely pro-life. Not like the usual, illogical, vote-pandering fool who says abortion is murder but killing a "criminal" is not, Tom says all killing is wrong, including state executions. He does so on moral grounds.

I support women's right to choose abortion, but Brinkman's pro-life view is one I can respect. It's consistent. It understands new DNA evidence that just about guarantees mistakes have been made and innocent people have been killed in the name of the state, in the name of conservatism.

But maybe most important, Brinkman has the guts to take on this town's establishment elite — those downtown, wine-and-cheese Republicans who think it's their birthright to decide everything in Cincinnati. Where the stadiums are, who is school superintendent, even how much tax money will go to a downtown department store or two major sports businesses. I'm tired of that, and so seems Brinkman.

Several years ago he won his seat against that group's handpicked candidate. Brinkman was backed by leftovers from the Platform Republicans, known as renegades and neighborhood radicals. The establishment hates that he won, and they're pulling out all stops to dump him after this term. You've got to love a guy in a fight like that, with those powerful men as the political enemy.

His opponent is a perfect choice for the power dudes. He's slick and well connected. You can be sure if he won, his arms would jump when his political bosses pulled his strings. You can just picture the local Republican Party sizing him up as someone who would finally go off to Columbus toting their water all the way without spilling a drop. That would be the very profile they would love.

Without a doubt, I yearn for some political change. For too long, power has escaped working men and women because it's been consolidated among the wealthy and the men they pick to represent them. Schools in poor communities are underfunded. Jobs are sent abroad to increase corporate profits. Who among us isn't choking on our health care payments? But the Republicans will tell you this is the best you can expect and that you should keep electing their men.

I know Brinkman is a Republican. I know he's pretty damn conservative. But in a community that will have its Republican whether I like it our not, he's a unique Republican. He's a fighter. And wouldn't you at least prefer having that, considering the alternative — and who's behind him?

PUTTIN' OUT THE BONE appears monthly.

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