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Calfee NOW: Ohio State Representative Sean Brennan 

On the latest episode of Calfee NOW, Calfee Government Relations and Legislation practice group attorneys Michael Bowen and Raymond Tarasuck spoke with Ohio State Representative Sean Brennan.

Topics discussed included: 

  • State Representative Brennan's background and what made him decide to run for office.
  • How his experience as an educator has shaped his policies on public education.
  • Details about the issues facing District 14 and his plans to address those issues while in office.
  • Issues he thinks will be addressed in the upcoming General Assembly and those issues that may carry over to next year.

Rep. Sean Brennan

Watch the full Episode.

Video Transcript

Ray Tarasuck:

I'd like to welcome everybody to the next edition of Cal. Now I'm Ray Tarasuck and along with my associate Michael Bowen, we are here to welcome state representative Sean Brennan to spend a little bit of time with us this morning. Representative Brennan, thank you very much for your time this morning.

Rep. Sean Brennan:

Well, thanks Ray. Mike, I appreciate it. Sorry about the technical difficulties this morning, but it's an honor to be here with you this morning and to talk to you about my work serving the fine residents of District 14, which includes Parma, Parma Heights in West Park.

Ray Tarasuck:

Now representative, you've been in office now almost five months, having taken office this past January as a newly elected state representative for District 14 politics aside, looking back over the past five months, what has made the biggest impression upon you as a newly elected member of the house?

Rep. Sean Brennan:

Well, first of all, I just want to say that is a huge honor to be one of 99 members of the Ohio House of Representatives out of 12 million Ohioans. I still wake up every day wondering how I got here, and so I thank the residents that sent me to the State House to serve them. I found the job to be a lot more difficult than I imagined. Very time consuming. It pulls you in a lot of different directions, and of course the legislation that we deal with is often very complicated and it takes a lot of hours to do your homework, so to speak, to really understand all the different ramifications and facets of the legislation because you don't want to pass a piece of legend that has a piece of legislation that has a negative impact on Ohioans. But working hard is in my wheelhouse, so I've never been afraid of hard work. I enjoy the work very much and I've always had the motto that if you do what you love, it's not like work. So I very much enjoy the service

Michael Bowen:

Representative. Tell us a little bit about your background and why you decided to run for office.

Rep. Sean Brennan:

So as you are running for the Ohio House of Representatives and now serving, it really makes you reflect on your life and you go back and you start thinking about both the positive and negative things that you've been through. And I know that all of those experiences informed why I had to run and why I know that I'm a good representative for the folks that I do represent. And it all goes back to my mom. My mom went through a pretty tough time. My dad was unfortunately an abusive husband and ultimately abandoned my mom, my sister and I. And as a result, my mom lost the house and we were on public assistance, including food stamps for a while, and life was pretty tough. In fact, I remember my mom would take us a couple of cities over to go to the grocery store because that was back when food stamps were in a little booklet and you had to rip them out. And so everybody in line knew that you were on welfare and you'd often hear folks say under their breath things like white trash and questioned what you had in the grocery cart. And that made a big impression on me and often makes me emotional when I think about what my mom went through. So that's a big part of why I served. There are a lot of folks out there that are going through tough times right now and don't feel that they have a voice and I want to be that voice for them.

I was a public school teacher for about 30 years, the last 28 I served in the Ville Broadview Height City schools where I focused on social studies. I taught primarily American history, American government, and American law. So that informed a lot of why I wanted to run. It gave me a lot of experience knowing what is important for kids in families. In particular, I was also blessed to serve the folks of the fine city of Parma, Ohio's seventh largest city on city council for about 19 years, originally as a ward council person, and then since 2010 up until December as their president of city council. So all of those experiences and more give me a lot of great experience when we're discussing the bills down at the State House. And I've had many colleagues express that they appreciate the experience that I bring to the table, and that's an honor to hear that and know that and be able to do that.

Ray Tarasuck:

Representative. Earlier this year, the controlling board approved an additional 5.9 million in funding for early childhood services, and with the passing of House Bill 33, there's potentially millions of additional dollars that'll find it this way to our local schools from a policy perspective. Talk to us a little bit about education and how your experience as an educator has shaped your views on policies surrounding our youth.

Rep. Sean Brennan:

So it was certainly an honor to serve as a school teacher for 30 years. I can't believe it's been that long. I can't believe that the time has flown so quickly. I missed the kids. I left the classroom in December to go down to Columbus and serve. In fact, I just visited my seniors who graduated this past weekend and it was an emotional rollercoaster, let's just put it that way. But I was very happy overall with the biennial budget that was passed out of the house recently as HB 33 House Bill 33. In that budget, there was more money allocated for public schools than at any other point in our state's history. So that's a lot of taxpayer dollars that are going to help a lot of kids in every district in the state of Ohio, and a lot of families as well. But what I would say about that is that although that's a step in the right direction, we still have a lot of work to do.

As you both know, our schools still are in large part funded on property taxes. And I think that unfairly pits our senior citizens and other property owners against our schools. And that's not a naturally adversarial relationship, and it doesn't have to be that way. So I won't be happy, as I always say, until our public schools are weaned off of property taxes entirely. And that's going to take a lot of work. It's going to take a lot of work from both Democrats and Republicans and other stakeholders. It's not going to happen overnight. But again, I think HB 33 takes us in the right direction. I'm hoping that the Senate will concur with our funding levels for public education, and we'll find out soon enough.

Michael Bowen:

Representative, tell us a little bit about the makeup of your district, in particular, some of the assets and some of the challenges that you know have to deal with on a daily basis.

Rep. Sean Brennan:

Right. Yeah. So as I said before, district 14 is made up of Parma, Parma Heights, and about a third of Cleveland's West Park neighborhood. And the biggest asset I would say about our district honestly, are the people that live there. We've got three communities that I serve a very hardworking salt of the Earth live and let live folks who really care about their communities. In fact, they invest in their communities. So for instance, they've invested in what I consider another one of our great assets, and that is our safety forces. Our communities have, what I always say are some of the best police and fire departments in the state of Ohio, second to none. They are dedicated public servants who care very deeply about the communities and people that they serve. And because of that, we do have very safe communities, which attract has attracted folks to the communities.

And because of that, we have very safe communities and with more and more folks moving in that protects our property values, people are investing in their homes. And that just benefits everybody. And with particularly young families and others moving into the community, they're obviously working paying taxes, which provides more revenue for our cities to further bolster our safety forces and the other services that the residents expect and that they deserve. Quite frankly, as far as challenges go, the challenges we face in District 14 are really reflective of the challenges that we see all cities and local governments facing the state of Ohio. And that is first and foremost infrastructure challenges. We've got aging roads and bridges, sewer lines and water lines. And I'd be remiss of course, if I didn't commend Parmas Mayor Tim DeGeeter, Parma Heights, mayor Marie Gallo, and of course our young vibrant and hardworking mayor, Justin Bibb of Cleveland, who have devoted a lot of resources to our infrastructure.

But they need more help. They need more help from both the state and federal governments. In fact, I recently introduced a piece of legislation with Michele Grim, who's my colleague from Toledo that would encourage Congress to create what's called a national infrastructure bank. It's a bill that if Congress follows through with it would put aside 5 trillion to truly address the infrastructure needs that we have in our country. And although it's too much to get into now, it would not add on to our national debt because of the way that it's funded. And this was the same way our nation was.

Nation's economy was founded by Alexander Hamilton back in our founding years. It was also used by Abraham Lincoln, Lincoln, and Congress during the Civil War as well as Franklin D. Roosevelt during the Great Depression in World War ii. So that I would say is one of our biggest challenges along with school funding, which I alluded to before. Our residents want to support our schools, but when you fund your public schools primarily on property taxes, it presents a challenge and again, creates that unnecessary negative relationship between many property owners in our schools. So again, we've got to work on addressing that issue again, not only facing District 14, but all of the state of Ohio.

Ray Tarasuck:

Now, representative, representative, aside from the topics we've already discussed here so far, what are some of the legislative initiatives you would like to pursue as you move through this, your first year in your term and on to next and your second year?

Rep. Sean Brennan:

So I've introduced several pieces of legislation, and I'm very happy to say that they are bipartisan in nature. So I've joint-sponsored some legislation with both Democrats and Republicans and looking forward to seeing those things come to fruition. So every day I think about how I can make the lives of the folks that I represent here in District 14 better and on a larger scale, all Ohioans. And so my mantra is I want to work with both Democrats and Republicans to move the ball forward. And so I spent a lot of my time in my beginning months in the general assembly, building relationships with not only my Democratic colleagues, but my Republican colleagues, and it's been very successful. They see that I'm sincere that we're not going to agree on everything, but there's a lot of common ground that we can find, and we're finding that common ground.

It doesn't always get reported in the news that way, but we are making some headway as far as bipartisan legislation. In fact, I don’t know if I mentioned it yet or not, but we recently passed the transportation bill. It's the biggest investment in transportation in transport, transportation-related needs in the state of Ohio and our state's history. And it's the biggest job created, creating a piece of legislation in state history. And it passed overwhelmingly on a bipartisan basis. A lot of my priorities are reflected in the committees that I serve on. So I serve on the Primary and Secondary Education Committee. I serve on the Ways and Means Committee, which is the Tax Committee. I also serve on the Pensions Committee as well as the State and Local Government Committee with my experience at City Hall and working in the schools that that's been very helpful.

So really in all my committees reflect my priorities as a legislator and I serve because I care about people. Sometimes folks call me a politician. I really shun that title. I considered myself a public servant and I want to do right by the folks that I represent. So one of the first pieces legislation that I introduced was a piece that would eliminate the OVEC subsidies on your electric bill. OVEC is the Ohio Valley Electrical Cooperative. It's an organization that supports two 1950s coal-fired power plants. One in Indiana, by the way, the other in Southern Ohio that are well beyond their years. And it was part of the HB six bill that we've all been hearing about in the news lately. And I call the OVEC subsidies that we pay on our electric bills, part of the cost of corruption. And so every bill, anybody in Ohio that pays an electric bill, has a rider on there that subsidizes these two antiquated coal fired power plants.

Again, one, not even the state of Ohio. And for instance, even though those of us in northeast Ohio do not benefit from these coal-fired power plants, we're paying that subsidy on our bill every month. And by the time it's all said and done, it's estimated that ray payers in Ohio will have paid 30 million to subsidize these two antiquated plants. And that's just wrong. So I'm very, very much concerned about consumers. I know that it's tough right now with inflation and a looming recession. Electric prices just went up quite a bit here in June. So for instance, there's another bill in my public utilities committee that would also lead to what I have discovered to be higher electric bills. So I'm working with my colleagues to try to take those costs out of that bill, and I'm hopeful that I'll be successful if in fact I'm not happy with the bill at the end of the day, I'll vote against it, of course. And I might be in the minority on that one, but we've got to do right by the folks back home. They're electric bills that are already high enough. They don't need to be paying more. Two utilities that are making bigger profits than I believe historically they have.

Ray Tarasuck:

Well, representative Brennan, we want to thank you very, very much for taking time this morning to talk with us. Are there any final comments and passing thoughts you'd like to pass on to our viewers?

Rep. Sean Brennan:

Well, again, I would like to say what an honor it is to serve. I want to thank both of you for having me today. Anytime I get the opportunity to let folks know about what I'm doing on their behalf is great. Sometimes a challenge to get the word out to folks, but I do want to encourage anyone that's watching to send my office an email at rep 14 Ohio and request to be placed on my monthly newsletter that comes again every month through email. And I also want to say thank you to my chief of staff, McKenna Duggan, who hails from West Park, as well as my other staff members for the hard work that they do. One of the things I didn't mention is besides the legislative part of this job, my, myself and my staff feel that constituent work is really our priority.

So anyone that calls our office is going to get 110% on helping them with their issue. So feel free to reach out to our office. And I've got a very caring staff, they've got a lot of empathy. Our mantra is we try to see things from other folks' shoes and pretend like they are our own family members because they are just that. They are an extension of our own family and we all live in the same communities and we're there dedicated to work hard on their behalf. So again, thank you for having me today and I'd be glad to come back anytime. Thank you very much for your time.

Michael Bowen:

Great. Thanks, representative.

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