You may or may not remember him, or even heard of the man, but former Ohio senator Howard Metzenbaum passed away last week at the age of ninety. CNN.com reports of his eighteen-year tenure as the United States senator from Ohio:
During 18 years on Capitol Hill, from 1977 to 1995, Metzenbaum came to be known as “Senator No” and “Headline Howard” for his abilities to block legislation and get publicity for himself.
He was a cantankerous firebrand who didn’t need a microphone to hold a full auditorium spellbound while dropping rhetorical bombs on big oil companies, the insurance industry, savings and loans, and the National Rifle Association, to name just a few favorite targets.
Unabashedly liberal, the former labor lawyer and union lobbyist considered himself a champion of workers and was a driving force behind the law requiring 60-day notice of plant closings.
When other liberals shied away from that label, Metzenbaum embraced it, winning re-election in 1988 from Ohio voters who chose Republicans for governor and president, and by wider margins than either George Voinovich or George H.W. Bush.
And the New York Times reports:
Mr. Metzenbaum’s success in passing social legislation on issues like workers rights and adoption policy, in blocking pork-barrel excess and tax loopholes, and in inventing new ways to use the filibuster – long the tool of Southern segregationists – were unquestioned.
Finally, the Cleveland Plain Dealer writes:
He once filibustered for two weeks against a bill to lift price controls on natural gas. When debate was cut off, Metzenbaum, who was to prove himself a master of Senate rules, invented a new stalling tactic. He introduced hundreds of amendments and called for a time-consuming roll call vote on each one.
Metzenbaum built a reputation as a Horatio at the bridge. He was credited with saving taxpayers millions of dollars by standing in the way of “Christmas tree bills,” adorned with costly favors for a given state or corporation. Metzenbaum was often at the forefront of Democratic opposition to Reagan administration cabinet and Supreme Court nominees.
This is precisely the sort of leadership we so desperately need in the U.S. Senate. Since Metzenbaum and former senator John Glenn retired, we’ve been saddled with corrupt Republicans who are beholden not to their constituents, but corporations and the rigid GOP system of discipline that keeps any member from breaking ranks without incurring harsh consequences. To be sure, in 2006 we were able to oust Mike DeWine from office in favor of Democrat Sherrod Brown. But even Brown has not exactly been a leader in the Senate.
So why not make a concerted effort to convince Dennis Kucinich, currently representing Ohio’s 10th Congressional District, to run against incumbent George Voinovich in 2010? Can you imagine the brand of leadership he would bring? I can, and the more I think about it, the more I like the idea.
There is, to be sure, great risk for Kucinich in making such a run; this year he faced a surprisingly stiff primary battle, mostly from moneyed opponents who think he shouldn’t be running for any higher political office. And considering how vicious an opponent Voinovich — who ran a nasty campaign for mayor against him in 1979 — is, the battle would most certainly be a tough one. But I think it’s worth consideration.