Brinkman Encouraged By ‘Hardcore Conservatives’ In Return To House

New Member Profile: Brinkman Encouraged By ‘Hardcore Conservatives’ In Return To House

Gongwer News Service
Volume #84 Report #12, Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Tom Brinkman often cast the only dissenting vote during his first eight years in the House, but now, at the outset of his second stint, the arch-conservative feels like he has more in common with the GOP caucus.

“I think we do have some hardcore conservatives – not wimpy conserves – in this caucus,” he said in a recent interview.

His comments in an interview followed House Republicans’ biennial retreat, redubbed as an “advance” by former Speaker Bill Batchelder, marking the start of each session. It was the fifth such event for Rep. Brinkman.

“I’m much more optimistic than I’ve ever been at any of the others,” he said. “I think that the competition for leadership positions was a good thing, and certainly the group that won is trying to reach out and bring folks together and is listening.”

Nevertheless, the Cincinnati Republican said he’s reserving judgment to see whether his conservative colleagues’ actions follow their words. “A lot of people call themselves conservative, but they’re not,” he said.

“Dr. No” frequently irked GOP leadership when he served in the House from 2001-2008, but his steadfast adherence to conservative ideology and his blunt opposition to “wimpy conservatives” made him a hero to some in the far right wing of Ohio politics.

But eventually term limits ended his first House career and Mr. Brinkman had to find a job in one of the worst labor markets in U.S. history, he recalled. With prior experience as a salesman for printing companies, he started selling life insurance, an occupation that offers an intimate glimpse in to people’s personal financial circumstances.

“It certainly puts you in front of a lot of people, some who have been very frugal and saving and doing the right thing, and others who just let the situation grab a hold of them and strangle them. I’ve seen it all,” he said.

Becoming a licensed insurance agent also gave him personal experience in navigating the state’s regulatory process, he said. “I now know the ridiculous stuff they put up for people to do the job, and the reality is I don’t know who we’re saving. We’re basically just keeping people out of doing the job.”

Mr. Brinkman also stayed active in local politics and last year defeated former Rep. Peter Stautberg in the primary election. He said he was the first candidate to beat a caucusing Republican incumbent since 1996 and attributes his victory to a groundswell of intensely focused local opposition to the Common Core education standards.

“It was bizarre. I would actually try to develop additional issues on the campaign and I found out nobody wanted to talk about anything except Common Core,” he said. “I spent thousands of dollars trying to make an issue out of the House’s vote to give out free needles to heroin addicts. No one cared. All they cared about was Common Core.”

As such, repealing the Common Core is now the freshman lawmaker’s number one priority, he said, noting that the issue initially spurred a small group of women in the district to recruit him to challenge Mr. Stautberg.

“You got to dance with the ones that brung you and, quite frankly, I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the ladies that are against Common Core. I’m against taxes, I’m pro-life and things like that, and I’m still that way. But those are number two and three now compared to opposition to Common Core,” he said.

In addition to his opposition to replacing local educational control with national standards, the Republican said he’s disturbed that the tests associated with Common Core could allow private companies to access to students’ personal data, which could serve as a marketing tool for the rest of their lives. “They’re using our kids as a commodity,” he said.

Rep. Brinkman said he viewed Superintendent of Public Instruction Dick Ross’s move to reduce the amount of time that students spend taking standardized tests each year (see Gongwer Ohio Report, January 15, 2014) as a “ploy” to alleviate opposition to the Common Core.

People often confuse the Common Core with the explosion of standardized testing in recent years, but the two are really separate issues, he said. “I don’t think the state legislators are going to fall for that, but they’re going to try to make us.”

Rep. Brinkman said he believes Common Core opponents will ultimately be successful. Even if Ohio doesn’t reject the nationwide curriculum standards, enough other states are moving that direction to make implementation all but impossible, he said. “Common Core is a monolith. It needs full compliance by virtually all the states.”

As for his broader goal of shrinking government involvement in citizens’ lives, Rep. Brinkman said he was encouraged by the state’s budget surplus and recalled that the state was usually experiencing tough economic times during most of the other budget cycles he experienced as a lawmaker.

“Whereas leadership’s always grubbing for more money because they’re going to cure all the ills of world with it, members who represent their districts realize that doesn’t really happen. So they’ll be reluctant to spend more,” he said. “Maybe this time we cut back on some of these things and not expand the role of government in people’s lives.”

Aside from politics and business, Rep. Brinkman said he spends his free time building relationships with his six adult children, who still live in the Cincinnati region.

“Somehow when they grow up they get minds of their own and they leave the nest and you can’t treat them like little kids anymore. So you have to have relationships with them. And that’s a little bit different than when they’re six years old,” he said.

While his daughter has some interest in politics, Mr. Brinkman said his five sons “could care less about any of it.”