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Wednesday, April 16, 2014
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Published: 3/16/2008

Missing Metzenbaum

IN 1993, when it became clear that Ohio Sen. Howard Metzenbaum was not going to seek re-election the following year, The Blade referred to him appreciatively on this page as "a one-of-a-kind senator."

Mr. Metzenbaum, who died Wednesday at age 90, was a multimillionaire who made a fortune in the parking lot-and-rental car- business, then made his political name as a liberal lion, a defender of working Ohioans, and a bulwark against greedy corporate interests.

And, boy, was he feisty, a word that seemed invented for the irascible Cleveland Democrat, who eventually served 19 years in the U.S. Senate. In a world of wishy-washy politicians, you always knew where he stood on the issue of the day. Often, his ire was aimed at colleagues on both sides of the aisle, who carried water for special interests, or their own, on Capitol Hill. He wielded the filibuster like a deadly weapon.

Republican Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska, for example, once referred to Mr. Metzenbaum as "a pain in the ass." Coming from one of the Senate's pork-barrel kings, such a pejorative was a badge of honor the Ohioan wore proudly.

In a state that typically leaned Republican, he flourished as a stalwart of organized labor and an enemy of the insurance and oil industries. He successfully advanced a variety of worthy causes, including Alzheimer's research, nutrition labeling, aviation safety, plant-closing notification, and handgun control. He was the Senate's point man on the Brady Bill.

His political start came fresh out of Ohio State University law school in the state legislature, where he served in the House and Senate for seven years in the 1940s.

Having consolidated a personal fortune over the next 20 years, he returned to politics with a surprise victory in the 1970 Democratic Senate primary over astronaut hero John Glenn. But he lost the general election that year to Robert Taft, Jr.

In 1973, he was appointed to the Senate by Gov. John Gilligan to replace Republican William Saxbe, who became President Richard Nixon's attorney general. A year later, he lost to Mr. Glenn in a bitter rematch but was undeterred.

He won Senate victories in 1976, 1982, and 1988, never losing his liberal passion in the era of Reagan conservatism. His motto, imprinted in the minds of working people, was that he was "on your side."

In short, Howard Metzenbaum was the kind of senator that is in appallingly short supply these days in Washington, where big business mostly rules.

Those who admired his liberal politics will miss him and so will ordinary Ohioans whose interests he served over the years.



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