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Ohio Life

3 Questions: Sherrod Brown

The Mansfield native discusses his book examining the successes and failures of eight progressive leaders who occupied his desk on the Senate floor.

When it came time for Ohio’s then-freshman Sen. Sherrod Brown to find his place on the floor of the U.S. Senate following the 2006 election, he pulled out the drawers of several desks, mindful of the tradition among many senators of carving their names into them.

“I pulled open one drawer and saw the names of Hugo Black, Al Gore Sr., George McGovern and the last name Kennedy,” Brown recalls. “I went over to Ted [Kennedy] and asked which brother it was. He told me it was Bobby.”

That mahogany desk became the inspiration behind Brown’s new book, Desk 88: Eight Progressive Senators Who Changed America, out Nov. 5. The book chronicles the triumphs and failures of progressives over the past century and brings them full circle with the author’s own progressive policies.

The Mansfield native, who has also served as a state legislator, Ohio’s secretary of state and a U.S. congressman, spent over a decade on the book and got some crucial feedback from his wife, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Connie Schultz. “She read the first draft and told me there wasn’t enough of me in it,” he says.

We talked with Brown about today’s progressive movement, Ohio’s swing to conservatism and why he decided not to seek the Democratic nomination for president in 2020.  

Many of the Democratic presidential candidates have a progressive party platform. How will that play out next November?
The country’s future depends on a vibrant, progressive movement. [Ralph Waldo] Emerson saw history as a fight between conservators and innovators. Progressives are what brought us everything from the 40-hour workweek to safe water to clean air. Progressives typically lose more than we win but when we win, we win big, with FDR’s programs in the 1930s to Medicare and Medicaid in the 1960s.

In 2018, you were the only Democrat to win a statewide race in Ohio. How has the state’s political landscape changed?
The metro areas are becoming more and more progressive and the rural areas are becoming more and more conservative. Since 1990 virtually all our policies have been made by conservative politicians and our wealth is in decline compared to the rest of the country. The communities that are being hurt the worst are the small ones. 

At the start of the year you were mentioned as a strong presidential candidate but you decided not to run. Why?
I didn’t want it enough. You’ve got to want to do it more than anything in the world. I don’t have the ambition that our other [Democratic] candidates have. I have work to do in the Senate.

For more information about the book, visit us.macmillan.com

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