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Calfee NOW Episode 23 with Congresswoman Shontel Brown

On episode 23 of Calfee NOW, Raymond Tarasuck, Senior Counsel, and Michael Bowen, Associate with Calfee's Government Relations and Legislation practice group, and Jamie Gregory Lead Principal, and Nick Bush, Principal with Calfee's Federal Government Relations and Policy group, spoke with Congresswoman Shontel Brown (D-OH, District 11). 

Topics discussed included: 

  • Her background and why she chose to go into politics. 
  • How funds from the bi-partisan Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act will help residents of Northeast Ohio
  • How her work on the Agriculture and Oversight committees will benefit District 11
  • How she plans to build bridges with her colleagues on the other side of the aisle to accomplish her goals for her district. 


Calfee NOW Shontel Brown

Watch the full episode.



Video Transcript

Michael Bowen:

All right, everybody. Welcome to another edition at Calfee NOW. And this is a special one for me. This is a good friend of mine. I'd call her a Sister, Congresswoman Shontel Brown. So, also, Cuyahoga County Democratic Party chair, Shontel Brown. No shortchange the titles here. So, Congresswoman how are you doing today?

Shontel Brown:

Fantastic. How are you? Happy New Year. It's good to see you, although in a box, but it's still good to see you.

Michael Bowen:

Absolutely. Well, I'm going to hand it off to Jamie and he'll start off with the first question and we'll get right into it.

Shontel Brown:

All right.

Jamie Gregory:

Congresswoman, we thought a good place to start for our audience would be for you to tell a little bit about your background and how you first got into politics.

Shontel Brown:

Well, thank you. And thank you Calfee. Thanks for having me. I appreciate this opportunity just to share my background story for folks who don't know. I started out as a city council representative in Warrensville Heights. And what led me to run for that seat was, in the earthquake tragedy that struck in Japan. Now that might seem like a strange thing, but it prompted the question, where would we go in the events of an emergency? And that's what led me to my city council meeting. And there, I learned a lot of things, but one of the things that I learned, most pointedly, is that there was room for some improvement. So rather than complain, I'm a person that believes in being the change that you want to see. So I rolled up my sleeves, pound the pavement, introduced myself to my neighbors and told them I wanted to be their city council representative. And Jamie, they were quick to point out things that needed to be addressed, like potholes that needed to be filled, tree branches that needed to be trimmed and sewers that needed to be cleaned.

Shontel Brown:

But as I continued to go to the meetings, I cultivated relationships with the administration who availed themselves and said, "If you need help out there, let us know." Well, I took them up on that offer. And next thing you know, tree branches were getting trimmed, sewers were getting clean and potholes were getting filled.

Shontel Brown:

So I'm feeling good, Jamie. Election day comes, the polls closed and I was down by six votes. I thought to myself, okay, well, this must not be for me. And that I was likely never going to run for office again. I'm like, besides, I'm getting the work done. Who needs the title? Well, little did I know there were 23 provisional ballots in the race. Eleven days later, I learned that I had won by seven votes. And so, that seven votes changed the entire trajectory of my life.

Shontel Brown:

For those who know me, I'm not shy about my faith. As a child of faith, seven represents perfection, completion and God. And so I often attribute this journey of public service to his divine intervention, grace, mercy and favor. And that has really been the moral compass, the guiding force and the foundation in this work that I purposely describe as public service because I know how I got here and I know who I work for.

Shontel Brown:

Fast forward three years later, became Cuyahoga County Council representative in a race where there were six of us. We earned 48% of the vote, much different outcome than my first. And then finally, now, just last year, 2021, which is special for me because 21 represents, three sevens and it was my third race for public office. And so I kind of felt like there was some divine connection there as well.

Shontel Brown:

And early voting started on July 7th, which is two sevens. So here I am, in a 13 way race, where we won, 50% of that vote. And it came down to two dynamic African American women. And I'm proud to say, I won that race with the help of many people on this call and have been proudly serving as the fourth member to represent this area. And it means so much to me. So, that's my story. That's my journey. So it's been quite a journey, but one that I never anticipated when I first decided in 2011 to run for city council.

Raymond Tarasuck:

Congresswoman it's my turn. Hi, great to see you again.

Shontel Brown:

Thank you.

Raymond Tarasuck:

So, let's talk a little bit about districts and redistrict. Okay? Recently, the Ohio Supreme Court struck down plans for redistricting for both, the state of Ohio's House and Senate, as well as the congressional districts and congressional map. Now, under that failed congressional map, out of 15 congressional districts, only you and Congresswoman Beatty would have been in districts that were leaning democratic. Right? So can you share your thoughts on redistricting and how redistricting may have an impact on your and democratic party's ability to accomplish some of the administration's goals?

Shontel Brown:

You don't know how much I appreciate that question, Ray, and it's good to see you also happy new year. Listen, it has been encouraging and that the fact that the supreme court made their decision, but we, as you pointed out, and one of the things that I like to quote about David Pepper, former chairman of the ODP, is that Ohio is more rigged than red, right. When you consider the number of registered voters or how the voter turned out shakes up, we were very much considered a purple state, but because of the way the maps have been drawn, that is not reflective in our elections or our representation. When you think about the fact that Ohio had 16 congressional seats, and let me also highlight this point that I don't think it's enough attention. We lost the congressional seat by 11,000 people in the census count, 11,000 cost us a seat in Congress.

Shontel Brown:

And so now we're going from 16 to 15. Now I'm a person that would look at that and say, okay, well, how do we maintain our four at the very least? Well, no, the Republicans decided to draw the maps in such a way that we went not down to four, but to two. So it's egregious, it's offensive, it's disgraceful because the numbers do not indicate that. So I'm happy that hopefully someone like Congresswoman Kaptur will get a chance to potentially retain her seat because she's the Dean of the Ohio delegation. She sits on the appropriations, the power and the influence that she holds and for our state as a whole is so valuable to risk that by putting someone new in that seat, jeopardizes the future and the potential and for us to be able to capitalize on this very slim majority that we already hold in the House and the Senate.

Shontel Brown:

And so it means a lot, just to be able to maintain the majority. It means a lot in Ohio to have a reflective representation. It means a lot when it comes to fairness around our elections. When we're challenged with voter suppression here in Ohio, these are the things that are critically important and are tied to how these lines are drawn. So, I can't overstate the importance. For me, it is going to change it ever so slightly because Cuyahoga County is navy blue, right. So, as much as they may try to make it, play with the lines, it's really hard to get a Republican elected in Cuyahoga County, but it's not impossible. So things are changing in a lot of ways but if we're going to be positioning ourselves to be able to deliver the administration's agenda, which has been a good one, and let me also say, has accomplished a lot in what I would consider the first quarter of a game.

Shontel Brown:

If this were a game, this is just the first quarter. It's a four year term and we've been able to pass historic legislation. So, it means a lot Ray, but for me personally, I'm hopeful that Congresswoman Kaptur will benefit more. And I'm hopeful that we'll see someone like Representative Sykes, be able to represent us the more southern part of summit County, the southern part of Ohio and Summit County with her potential ability to run. So there's a lot of possibility out there. So fingers crossed, we hope for the best, but prepare for the worst and capitalize on whatever comes our way.

Nick Bush:

Amen to that. So, in switching gears just a little bit Congresswoman, one of your first votes when you got to DC was helping to pass the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which is, we're all hearing about the historic investment that this is. Every city county, municipality, larger region is looking to bring some of those dollars in their backyard. You sit on two committees, house agriculture and oversight, and wanted to just sort of give you a chance to see how do you see your committee roles in implementing these laws and helping drive some of these dollars to Northeast Ohio and what are you looking forward to in that large bill as far as opportunities for Northeast Ohio?

Shontel Brown:

Well, thank you for that. So, yes, I like to brag and say that, yesterday I was actually on a call with members of the Ohio delegation including Senators Portman and Brown, and my fellow colleagues, Kaptur and Gonzalez. And Senator Portman highlighted the fact that, there have been multiple presidents. He went on to say, 30 years we've been talking about doing infrastructure. So, I like to brag and say on my second day, I was able to get it done. Okay. So, but the reality of the situation is, and it's funny, I said that to Congressman Clyburn and he said, "Why do you think we work so hard to get you here?" But, because the majority is just really that slim, it took knowing that we had that number of votes to be able to get it across the finish line.

Shontel Brown:

But the most exciting thing about it is it was bipartisan. We can work together people. So it's one of those things that I felt very proud about. How it impacts us? Tremendous ways. Roads, bridges, just last Friday, I was able to do a press conference announcing that Ohio will receive $96.7 million to address our bridges. Now, I had the pleasure of having by my side, David Wondolowski from the Cleveland Building Trades and Construction, as well as Dan O'Malley from the AFL-CIO. They said that type of investment will create hundreds of jobs. We're talking about over 1300 bridges, 1,377 small to medium size bridges in Ohio that are at a C minus level or worse. And so, the priority will be on the bridges naturally that need the most attention and have the highest traffic. And that allocation will be appropriated by the state. But the jobs that that alone will create. We've got 650,000 lead pipes in Ohio that the administration is committed to taking outs, again, the jobs that that will create.

Shontel Brown:

So not only the jobs though, if many of you know me, one of the pieces of legislation I was most proud of as a local legislator was the declaring racism as a public health crisis. That was fundamentally driven by our infant mortality crisis, which is also tied to lead pipes and lead exposure and things of that nature. So, when we talk about the investments that are going to be made to create jobs, reverse course on decades of disparities and discrimination, that is what this bipartisan infrastructure bill will be doing. And last but certainly not least, another thing that I couldn't be more excited about, is the internet, high speed broadband internet. This pandemic showed us, how important and how critical it is. Here we are, having this call, online via high speed internet access. So many people. I think if I remember what Senator Sherrod Brown said in Cuyahoga County, 38% of the households in Cleveland do not have access to high speed broadband internet.

Shontel Brown:

Some of it is because of affordability and some of it is because accessibility, where the bipartisan infrastructure bill will address both of those things. So, it is going to really improve the quality of life and I think it's going to help us deal with the economic well up gap because the Biden Harris administration has also been diligent and very intentional about making sure that the investments are equitably distributed. So there are opportunities for minority businesses to be able to capitalize on these investments because there are, again, they were very intentional about inclusion and equity when they drafted the legislation and decided to, and when we decided to pass it.

Shontel Brown:

So, seeing the president two weeks after being elected signed this legislation into law, certainly one of the highlights and probably could very well be one of the biggest highlights of my very short time in Congress because again, all jokes aside, this has been talked about by multiple presidents, multiple members have been working on this for decades. And so we've finally been able to get it done under the Biden Harris administration. So, it's going to do wonders and I think we can start seeing some of these projects take shape before the end of the year, hopefully. So we'll start to see these dollars in our community, in the not so distant future.

Jamie Gregory:

That's excellent. So, Congresswoman, I'll ask the next question. Members of Congress tend to specialize on issues or areas of concentration that are important to their district or are in their committees that they serve on. And I was just wondering, are, and I think we may have already heard some of this, but are there specific issues that you want to concentrate on and have you thought about future committee assignments in the next Congress?

Shontel Brown:

Well, so that's a great question. I'm going to go in reverse with the committee assignments because, I think the last time I had a chance to speak with you, I was talking about financial services, but what I've learned since then oversight is a pretty powerful, influential and high sought after a committee. And what's good about me being on oversight, I wasn't waved on. I would have had to be waved on to a committee like financial services which ultimately affects your seniority and your seniority as many of you know, it greatly shapes your influence and impact in Congress, right, along with... So your seniority in your tenure. So I wasn't waved on to either of the committees. So, with all of the retirements and members seeking higher office, I think I'm probably in the 300s right now, right. So, I'm no longer 435 out of 435.

Shontel Brown:

We had two members come in behind me. So technically I'm 433 out of 435 until next year, when all of the members retire or seek higher office and who knows how many people will be defeated or come out victorious. So I'm very happy with my committee assignments. I also can say that I've been able to pick up the torch of my predecessor on agriculture. We think agriculture, well, it really fits. Ohio is a farming state. But when you think about the districts, I tell there's not many farms in the 11th. Well, I don't know if you know this but Rid-All Farms is the largest urban farm in the state of Ohio and it is in the district. So there's been a great emphasis put on investing in urban farms, as well as vertical farms using old and dilapidated buildings and maybe converting them into buildings that could be used to create indoor farming facilities.

Shontel Brown:

In addition to that, agriculture also deals with an issue that's very near and dear to my heart: nutrition and school nutrition and meals and snap. So there is so much opportunity that these committees present for me, that work well and compliment the district. And you can count on me to really maximize those opportunities as they present themselves. So I don't know that I want to make any changes, Jamie. I'm pretty satisfied with the committee assignments that I've received now, unless something exclusive like appropriations or ways and means comes up down the line. Those are the two biggest and I think probably most highly sought after next to energy and commerce. I think that's another one that would be good. But I don't see that happening probably for at least another two to three terms. And then finally, issues that are important to me as it relates to the 11th congressional district.

Shontel Brown:

I'll tell you, I'll share some advice that chairman Benny Thompson, who's overseeing Homeland Security. He chairs Homeland Security, but he also is overseeing the January 6th Committee. He said to me on probably my very... I don't even know if I was officially a member yet, but he reminded me the importance of not getting caught up in the Washingtonian politics and making sure that you stay close to the people who can actually keep you here. And so, as a result of that, I'm going to always sit close to my roots, which is equity and inclusion, making sure that whatever issues come before me, that those who are in the greatest need receive the resources and support that they need.

Shontel Brown:

So constituents' services has been a very high priority for me and making sure that people understand that we are a partner to be able help them. And that is something that I think stretches across all categories, if you will, whether it's business, whether it's civil service, whether it's government, whatever area that touches people's lives, I want it to be equitable and inclusive. And I think that we're able to achieve a lot more when we start looking at through that lens of equity and inclusion. So that will continue to be my highest priority as it relates to issue and any in every category that comes before me.

Raymond Tarasuck:

Congresswoman, that really transitions real well to my next question. For all the years that I have known you, you have worked very hard for your constituents and for members of the Democratic Party. And over that time, you have really earned the respect of your colleagues and you've developed relationships that are necessary to achieve all those goals that you've had. Relationship building is a great skill that you've got, you've got that down rope path. So describe for us how you plan to use that skill as a new member of Congress to build bridges and not walls among those colleagues you've got in Washington now to achieve all those goals that we've talked about today.

Shontel Brown:

Yeah. So, I will say this, it's been an interesting dynamic. So what we see on the news is a lot of polarization, a lot of division, and yes, there is some of that, I will admit. But there are so many things that we are able to get done that goes unnoticed and that people... I've taken over 80 votes and the majority of them have been passed with bipartisan support. And so, I'm happy to say, once I got there, I was well received by both sides of the aisle. The reception has been warm. I'll tell you two funny stories. I'll give you the worst of the two. So, getting off of the elevator, I'm probably, I'm less than two weeks in its 435 members. I don't know who's who, but what you can tell in the halls of Congress is that, it's very evident who's who, because Democrats are generally masked, Republicans are not.

Shontel Brown:

But I speak to everybody. You know my personality, Ray. I don't care. I'm like, "Hey, how you doing? Hey, how's it going? Hello?" So I get off the elevator. I speak to this guy and he just brushes by me. He doesn't say anything. And so I'm with Conor, who's on the call and I say, "Gosh, some of these people are just so rude." And he says to me, "Ms. Brown, that was the member that posted the video about killing AOC." I said, "Oh, okay, well then that kind of makes sense why he couldn't speak to me." But, on the flip side, my second day, while we were waiting to cast our ballot for the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill, I run into a colleague and he's like, "Hey, great speech yesterday, welcome. We're excited to have you." And he said, "I sit on the other side of the aisle, but we really do, we're glad you're here."

Shontel Brown:

And in my true fashion I said, "Well, can you help us get this bill pass? We're waiting for votes today." I said, "So can you vote with us today?" And he says, "I don't know." He said, "I'll vote with you but I probably won't vote way." I mean, so there's that banter, there's that camaraderie, but on the much more positive highlighted side, the Ohio delegation, Dave Joyce has been super friendly as well as Anthony Gonzalez. And so, we've got legislation right now that I've introduced that they're co-sponsoring with me. So bipartisanship does exist. So, the thing that makes the job hard is, again, it's 435 members. Some of them turn over. You need 218 people to pass legislation. So it's about focusing on those 217 folks that share your same principles and values and convincing them to vote your way. And that's the difficult part of the job. So, Ray, in true Chantelle fashion, I'll continue to talk to everyone and see if I can get them on my side and make sure that I'm delivering for everyone on this call because that is my job.

Shontel Brown:

So I'm not too caught up in the fact that, there are people in the media that drives this wedge between us and hopefully when we're sitting down, like when I had my meeting, Senator Portman came to my office and shared some things, but we have to have those difficult conversations. Can we get the Voting Rights Act passed? Where can we meet? What's the issue? What's the hold up? Because too often I think we've been so divided. What can unite us? Where can we find... So people have to be willing to share what they want. I think what's been happening is we've just been hearing what people don't want. Tell me what you want so we can work from there. What do you stand for? What do you want? Let's figure that out and then we can go from there. But I think this elusive, oh, I don't like that. I don't like that. Well, what do you like? Give me a place to start from, and then we can go from there.

Michael Bowen:

Well, Congresswoman, I want to thank you again from the team at Calfee. You've always been good to us. Anytime we call you're there. And anytime we ask, you pick up. So, this is kind of what we call the freestyle point of the show where you can kind of just say whatever you want to our clients who are friends of Calfee to your people on the firm, to the 11th congressional district because as you can imagine, a lot of our clients are residents of your district. So, the floor is yours Congresswoman.

Shontel Brown:

Well, thank you. I just want to thank you. You say I've been good to you but you've been as good to me. So it's a reciprocal relationship and Mike, you have always been a solid friend, a great supporter. And I really appreciate you as well as Ray. There are so many things that I could say about you, but I will take advantage of this time to say, look, I am up for reelection. It's a two year cycle, right. And so, I need your continued support. If you like what I've been doing, if you appreciate the fight and not just the fight, but the champion being able to win on issues is what I'm hyper focused on. Then, I need your help to keep me here. So, these opportunities mean so much because it helps me get the message out.

Shontel Brown:

I think too often, we have not been boastful enough and I'm not one to boast either, but we've been able to do a lot under this administration in a short amount of time. Yes, it's easy to look at what we haven't done, but when you think about the historical investment of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill, that alone is, again, it's historic, it's life changing. It's going to do wonders for our district and I could not be happier.

Shontel Brown:

We've got new leadership coming into and the mayor seat then coming into the county executive position. So, this is an optimum time for us to really grow and reverse course on so many things that we haven't been able to get done successfully. So, I'm in it for the long haul. If you could continue to have me, I'm happy to serve. I feel like this is my groove. I feel like this was made for me and I love the job and I want to continue doing the job so if you're happy with the work that I've been doing, spread the word and help send me back. So, that's all I have. Thank you.

Michael Bowen:

We appreciate the time Congresswoman. Obviously we appreciate everybody tuning in to Calfee NOW. Have a good one. Bye.

Calfee Connections blogs, vlogs and other educational content are intended to inform and educate readers about legal developments and are not intended as legal advice for any specific individual or specific situation. Please consult with your attorney regarding any legal questions you may have. With regard to all content including case studies or descriptions, past outcomes do not predict future results. The opinions expressed may not necessarily reflect the view points of all attorneys and professionals of Calfee, Halter & Griswold LLP or its subsidiary. Updates related to all COVID-19 government assistance programs are provided with the most current information made available to Calfee at the time of publication. Clarifications and further guidance are being disseminated from government authorities on an ongoing basis. All information should be reaffirmed prior to the submission of any application and/or program participation.

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