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William McKenzie: Rob Portman boring? No way

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By William Mckenzie

Published: Thursday, Nov. 29, 2012, 8:58 p.m.

BC-MCKENZIE-COLUMN:DA - op-ed (750 words),0778

William McKenzie: Rob Portman boring? No way

(EDITORS: This story may not be used on websites) (ARCHIVE PHOTOS)

By William McKenzie

The Dallas Morning News (MCT)

While politicians and journalists may sometimes be friendly, journalists need some distance to fairly call balls and strikes. In some cases, though, friendships predate their jobs.

Rob Portman has been a friend since before he first won elected office in 1993 and I entered daily journalism in 1991. We struck up a friendship in Washington in the mid-1980s and have maintained one ever since.

The Rob Portman I know isn't the one I'm reading about in some articles regarding the Ohio senator as a possible running mate for Mitt Romney. In that Washington sort of way, he's been politely dismissed as boring for his ability to, well, get things done. Politico called him in April “vanilla, wonky and unflappable.”

I don't know about you, but I think Washington could use some competency. We have plenty of pols who can scream, yell and give thundering speeches. But we don't have enough who can argue their principles and still govern.

Competency is especially needed on the economy, which includes mastering the debt. Portman could help Romney focus on that core challenge, which polls show voters prefer Republicans to handle.

Portman was involved in economic and deficit issues throughout his 12 years in the U.S. House. He continued that focus through his time as trade czar for George W. Bush. His later one-year stint as Bush's budget director draws criticism since the debt grew under that administration, but Portman introduced a budget that would have yielded a zero balance in five years.

He now has a plan to get us past silly debates about shutting the government down. During budget standoffs, his End Government Shutdowns Act would keep financing the government at its current levels for 120 days, then lower it by 1 percent for each of the subsequent 90 days.

Call that boring or wonky if you like, but finding ways to end meaningless, interminable debates is how we can finally get out of debt, overhaul the tax code and move forward economically.

Portman has the attributes we should want in leaders from either party, unless Washington has gone completely crazy partisan. He maintains an even temper, shows appreciation for opponents and calmly overcomes a crisis.

We once spent a long summer drive back to D.C. from West Virginia. My car kept overheating, so Portman calmly turned on the heater to suck out the heat. That worked, even though the toasty, tedious ride sucked about all the salt out of our bodies. He didn't complain, even though we resembled road warriors from “Raising Arizona” upon finally hitting D.C. Examples like this exemplify the practicality and composure of his larger personal style.

Portman's image as boring doesn't square with me either when I consider his passion for the outdoors. He's the guy who drags his friends along on four-hour horseback rides, whitewater rafting, fly-fishing and even complicated Frisbee-golf games. Long before I knew him, he was sneaking a kayak into China and working on a ranch along the Rio Grande.

Those don't necessarily make him vice-presidential material, any more than his passion for hunting and fishing. But they sure scramble the picture of a boring guy.

Actually, I think Portman's love of the outdoors could help Republicans immensely, as it could offset the negative image the GOP has developed for being so lame on environmental issues.

A candidate who embraces the outdoors, including the National Park system, could attract the many young voters who align with the GOP's views on economics but not the natural world. Portman recently won an award from the National Parks and Conservation Association for his advocacy of the park system. That's no surprise to his many friends who've experienced his sense of adventure on his regular trips to Montana. But it may surprise some who prefer to slap a vanilla tab on him.

I'm biased: I think Romney should pick Portman. He can solve problems and could help the GOP brand. But that's for Romney to decide. Meanwhile, let's just get the terms straight. Boring? Not the guy I know.



William McKenzie is an editorial columnist for The Dallas Morning News. Readers may write to him at the Dallas Morning News, Communications Center, Dallas, Texas 75265; email:


©2012 The Dallas Morning News

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PHOTO of William McKenzie available from the “Columnists Mugs” section of MCT Direct.

ARCHIVE PHOTOS on MCT Direct (from MCT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): Rob Portman



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