Wednesday, May 2, 2012

All about Rob: Will Portman be Romney's Running Mate?

by Nomad

Finding a person that doesn’t outshine the bland Mitt Romney was always going to be something of a problem. Even his supporters would admit that, for all his ambition, charismatic is not one of Romney’s great attributes.

Recently, he has been compared to a modern day Don Draper, but with half the looks and none of the charm or sex appeal. That just leaves a head of good hair, a strong jaw and the determination to do whatever it takes to get ahead of the competition.

So the question for the Republicans boiled down to how do you out-vanilla vanilla? The answer, as far as the GOP was concerned was Republican Senator Rob Portman from Ohio . According to the Washington Post:
Two thirds of the state party chairmen and Republican National committeemen and women polled by the online news site BuzzFeed said that the Ohio senator was the most likely and best pick to be Romney’s running mate.
That’s not to say it’s a done deal of course. Still, it’s only fair to ask: who is Mr. Portman and what, besides colorlessness, does Romney like about him?

Portman’s resume seems pretty straightforward.

Born in Cincinnati in 1955, Robert Jones Portman was the son of a William C. "Bill" Portman II, who made his fortune through heavy equipment sales company, The forklift dealership was a family business with all members of the Portman family working there. Portman Equipment Company grew from a small business with five employees and his mother, Joan as the bookkeeper to one that employed over 300 people. 

His educational background is solid, rather than flashy. According to his Wikipedia entry:
Portman graduated from Cincinnati Country Day School in 1974 and went on to attend Dartmouth College, where he majored in anthropology and earned a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) in 1979. He earned his Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree from the University of Michigan Law School in 1984.
Following his graduation Rob would go on to work two years as an international trade attorney at a Washington firm consistently ranked as the nation’s number one lobbyist, Patton Boggs. before returning to Cincinnati.

Early Bush Connections

There’s one aspect of his resume that Portman would probably like to downplay as much as possible and that’s his long standing ties with the Bush family. In fact, this association was the catalyst for his entire political career. 

In 1988, Portman worked on George H.W, Bush’s presidential campaign and later joined the administration in an official capacity as Associate White House Council in 1989. Within a short span of time, Portman was chosen as director of the Office of Legislative Affairs, becoming the president’s chief lobbyist on Capitol Hill, before leaving the White House in 1991.

Two years later, encouraged by his experience with the Bush administration, Portman took the plunge and threw his hat into the ring to fill the seat of Congressman Willis Gradison. Gradison had retired from office in order to become the president of Health Insurance Association of America. 

Despite having some big league opposition in his own party, Portman won easily and later defeated his Democratic opponent by nearly 30,000 votes. 
During his time in office, Congressman Portman developed a reputation as a man that had little problem working with Democrats- certainly a type of politician in short supply nowadays. One source paints this positive picture of the Congressman:
Portman authored or co-authored over a dozen bills that became law, including legislation to reform the Internal Revenue Service, curb unfunded mandates (projects and programs Congress insisted that states adopt even though the federal government provided no money for them), expand pensions, 401(k), and IRA plans offered by small businesses, and create Cincinnati’s National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. His reputation as a rational legislator who worked with colleagues from both sides of the aisle resulted in six reelection wins without any serious challenge..
A new opportunity opened up when George W. Bush decided to go from Texas governor to a Republican candidate for president in 2000. Portman’s relationship with the younger Bush during this time was extremely (painfully in retrospect) close. One source gives this detail:
Rob Portman connection to the Bush family further blossomed when then-Gov. George W. Bush of Texas ran for president in 2000. An early supporter of the Governor, Portman helped both Bush and vice presidential candidate Dick Cheney practice for the debates by playing the roles of Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore and running mate Joe Lieberman in debate practice. His close relationship with Bush led then-House Speaker Dennis Hastert to appoint Portman as the House’s liaison with the White House.
Yes We have no Bananas
And, once again, the rewards for his assistance were positions in the Bush administration. After twelve years as a Congressman, Portman was sworn in to be the United States Trade Representative on May 17, 2005. At the swearing-in ceremony, President Bush told those gathered:
Rob Portman is America's Trade Representative; he's also my friend. I know his integrity and his wisdom and his dedication. And I know he's the right man to carry out our bold agenda at this important moment for world trade.

In this position, Portman worked with members of Congress to approve the Central American Free Trade Agreement, an agreement made between the Central American countries of El Salvador, Honduras, Costa Rica, Guatemala and Nicaragua with the United States of America. (Later the Dominican Republic also joined into the agreement.)

CAFTA involved the removal of tariffs that were levied upon goods that came into the United States from Central America. Under the free trade agreement over 80% of the taxes and tariffs that were put on these goods would be eliminated.
Despite the celebrations, not everybody saw the trade agreements as a positive development for the struggling nations in Central America.

One area of contention has been the banana growers multinationals. Three main companies —Dole, Chiquita, and Del Monte—dominate the banana industry in Latin America. These companies have enormous political influence and according to many have chronically abused the rights of their workers.. Guatemala is a case in point. A research associate with Council on Hemispheric Affairs, B.B. Sanford explains the problem in an article for Cutting Edge News:
In Guatemala, Chiquita Brand (United Fruit) has historically maintained a monopoly: no other brand successfully competed in the Guatemalan banana industry. Kinzer, who co-authored Bitter Fruit: The Story of the American Coup in Guatemala, argues, “United Fruit Company dominated for decades and distorted the development of a middle class.”
And free trade with the United States was an offer that they couldn’t refuse.
Guatemala and other underdeveloped countries, eager for economic connections and outside markets, saw the DR-CAFTA as a tempting offer they could not pass up. These agreements help to narrow the gap among per-capita incomes within the region. However, FTAs may pose a mortal danger to trade unions, and many workers already feel they have lost the ability to voice complaints about abuses suffered or discriminatory edicts which clamp down on workers’ rights.
The Human Rights Officer of The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), Manuela Chavéz, disclosed the full dimension of the troubling situation in an interview. She claimed that CAFTA is “an absolute nightmare for Latin America.” Various businesses in Guatemala, as well as other Latin American countries, cannot compete with United States producers. CAFTA does not call for the same level of respect for Central American labor rights, as called for by other bodies, such as the International Labor Organization (ILO). It leaves room for foreign-based MNCs [multinational corporations] to come in and abuse their workers without being held accountable and even the AFL-CIO has filed a complaint against the lack of workers’ rights under CAFTA.
Portman didn’t linger in this position long. On May 26 2006 , Portman was selected as Director of the Office of Management and Budget.

His critics have pointed out- somewhat unfairly- that under his direction, the budget deficit "more than doubled, from $163 billion in fiscal year 2007 to $455 billion in fiscal year 2008, due in part to the weakening economy in fiscal year 2008." Part of the reason for that weakening was a decline in federal revenues, created by the Bush tax cuts, which have begun long before Portman arrived.

After 14 months as budget director, he resigned on June 19, 2007, citing a desire to spend more time with his family. While he was with his family in Ohio, Portman was not inactive. He returned to practicing law and he also set up a political action committee called Ohio’s Future. He was certainly not satisfied to retire from political life.

Moreover, during his time away from Capitol Hill, Portman was cited as a potential running mate for Republican presidential candidate John McCain. But his ties to the Bush administration and lack of name recognition outside of his House district counted against him.
Instead, McCain shot himself in the foot and chose Sarah Palin as his running mate (and thereby destroyed his strongest argument against Obama- political savvy and experience.) 

Portman’s hiatus didn’t last long and in January 2008, he announced his intention to run as senator for Ohio, following the announcement that Senator George Voinovich would not seek re-election.

His senatorial bid caught the attention of big business. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Portman raised more than $1.7 million from corporate political action committees alone.
He is the top recipient of contributions from the insurance industry, with donations nearing $575,000, and ranks first in money from commercial banks, with more than $220,000, according to the same data. He raised an additional $697,000 from securities and investment firms and more than $1 million from lawyers and lobbyists.
In particular one donor stood out from the rest. According to BusinessWeek magazine:
His single biggest donor is Cincinnati-based American Financial Group (AFG), which owns a number of insurance and investment companies. The firm's executives have given Portman almost $125,000. Chairman Carl H. Lindner, a prominent Republican donor, and his son Carl H. Lindner III, the company's co-chief executive officer, each gave Portman's campaign the maximum $4,800 donation. Other CEO supporters include John Thain of CIT Group (CIT); Walter W. Bettinger II of Charles Schwab (SCHW); and William Johnson of H.J. Heinz (HNZ).
Carl H. Lindner, Jr. and his holding company American Financial Group is worth a closer look. AFG, based in Cincinnati, deals primarily in insurance and investments and sells retirement annuities. In 2004, American Financial Group was ranked 486th on the Fortune 500

AFG has an impressively large portfolio with a variety of affiliates and subsidiaries, including American Custom, Mid Continent, National Interstate, Republic Indemnity. Additional insurance specialties include (but are not limited to) equine, trucking, executive liability, fidelity and crime, and agri-business. 

Lindner was the company's chairman until his death in 2011 and that position is now shared by his sons, Carl H. Lindner, III and S. Craig Lindner. 

Lindner and his wife had long been top Republican campaign donors, contributing more than a million dollars to federal candidates and parties in 2000. Interestingly, AFG became one of the first Fortune 500 companies to take advantage of the Supreme court decision in the Citizens United case. Shortly before his death, Lindner himself became quite active in the 2010 mid-term elections which saw the tea party revolt. 

Additionally AFG donated $400,000 to the Republican-allied PAC American Crossroads which maintains close ties to many of the former Bush administration officials. For example, Its president is Steven J. Law was .a former United States Deputy Secretary of Labor and one of the PAC’s advisor is none other than Karl Rove, Bush’s former White House Deputy Chief of Staff. And perhaps not unexpectedly, this connection also ties back to Mitt Romney himself. The political director for the American Crossroads PAC is Carl Forti who helped launch Restore Our Future, a pro-Mitt Romney super-PAC that raised $12 million in the first half of 2011. (You can find more on Restore Our Future and the top contributor at this link.)

Given Portman’s history with the Bush administration and especially his work with the Central American Trade Agreement, it is an interesting coincidence that AFG holds a 30 percent stake in Chiquita Brands International. Is it significant? Who knows?

However it would be wrong to say that AFG supports only Republicans. Since 1988, according to Common Cause, a Washington watchdog group, Lindner and his associates and companies have given $650,000 in soft money to the Democrats while giving $1.5 million to the Republicans. It would appear that Linder took no chances. 

Giving money to both sides is what they call "insurance."

Weighing everything up

As Republican politicians go, in this day and age, Senator Rob Portman does appear to be fairly clean. His reputation as a person who can actually work with the opposition instead of hurling insults, signing idiotic pledges and making impossible demands will be a quality that Congress will miss if Romney does indeed ask Portman to become his running mate. 

There are certain drawbacks to the choice as well. First of all, with the mood of the voters at the moment against Washington, anybody perceived as an insider like Portman could be the deciding factor in an electorate that is already soft on supporting Romney in any case. As the Washington Post pointed out:
Romney spent the entirety of his presidential primary campaign casting himself — smartly — as an outsider to Washington and its ways. In the early days of the general election, Romney is, again, aiming to draw an insider vs. outsider contrast against President Obama. And Romney’s senior campaign officials make no attempt to hide their disdain for the ways of Washington. Choosing someone who is seen as the favorite of party insiders then could erode rather than bolster the contrast Romney is trying to drive against the incumbent.
Portman is not only an insider. He is an insider whose Washington career is nearly entirely beholden to the Bush family. That fact would only magnify the problem. 

To illustrate: when Portman resigned from the the Bush administration to return to his home and family, Bush gave this praise:
I am here to say goodbye to a good friend. … There’s no finer man in public service than Rob Portman. He’s been a trusted adviser, and Laura and I are going to miss him. … I thank Rob for his service and good advice and, most of all, his friendship.
Rob Portman’s good friend George W. Bush is so toxic at this time that even a heart-felt glowing recommendation seems more like a Texas fly in the vanilla pudding.