Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Sherrod Brown in Akron

Sherrod Brown did Akron yesterday. Atop the agenda was a press conference about alternative energy today. Once again, childcare fell into place – well, sort of. I ended up dragging Kid T (the four-year-old) with me, but Kid Z was otherwise occupied. In an amusing episode from the Daddy/blogger files, I pulled into a parking space around the corner from the venue and was getting my stuff together when I saw across the street Redhorse and his kids.

Yeah, the venue. I didn’t really get it. Wildflowers II is a flower shop on Market – for you non-Akronites, probably about the busiest street in the ‘Kron. The sidewalk in front is maybe one and a half panels wide. Something like 40-50 people crowded into the space.

I judge these things in part by whether it's unclear how the majority of folks got there. By that measure, it was a success. That is, the attendees are not vanloads of obvious union guys, they aren’t all from a particular government office, they aren’t all SCPD. Also, they weren’t from a zillion different campaigns. Judy Hanna was the only candidate there in person. She had a couple staff with her, but no one else was represented. People were waving signs at traffic and getting a pretty good honk rate.

After a bit of wait, Sherrod came out and started working the crowd. Then he took to the podium which faced toward the street. All the supporters and volunteers bunched behind the podium to provide backup, while those of us trying to hear the speech were left to stand in the street. Yes, the street. The reporters, camera operators and bloggers were standing in the lee of a parked car, hoping none of the traffic whizzing by veered into our space.

The topic for the day was alternative energy. Sherrod’s theme was that the Bush Administration – abetted by lobbyist-fattened Republicans like DeWine, biases its energy policy toward ever-greater consumption of fossil fuels. He runs a tag line about making Ohio the “Silicon Valley for Alternative Energy,” but that part of day is short on specifics – we need to “work with” local governments and small businesses.

The supporting cast was instructive. Frank Communale – a Dem stalwart – spoke about small businesses struggling over energy prices. Then we heard from two alternative energy entrepreneurs -- Jeff Wilhite from Ovonic Hydrogen Systems, then Robert Dirgo from Creative Fuels (below). Both talked about the exciting work that they and others are doing. Again, the specifics about how Federal policies can spur this Silicon Valley were wanting.

Regardless, Brown's performance was all in all impressive. The core of the message was the bankruptcy of the administration's petrol-heavy energy policy. When questions came up asking for specifics, the Brown responded by reiterating the need for to start with a real energy policy -- on not written by and for oil companies.

The effect was to bash the administration for an old but singularly unsavory episode -- the closed-door meetings that generated the oil policy. But Brown can't be accused of simply bashing -- he's brought all this out in the context of advocating for progressive policy.

What's more, by bringing in small businessmen, he is giving a business-friendly gloss to his usual economic populism. I think small business people are a real potential constituency for Democrats, given the Republicans' fealty for large, rich corporations. Unfortunately, a strong faction in the Democratic agenda-setting apparatus says they fear taking on corporations lest they be accused of class warfare (though I think they really fear losing campaign money from Conglomeration, Inc.) Brown is ignoring the memo, to his advantage.

A couple of quibbles. First, there was no mention of what made Silicon Valley in the first place -- world class higher education. While noone can replicate the proximity of Cal-Tech, Stanford and Berkely in Northern California, bolstering higher education, and particularly graduate-level higher education, is an essential step in advancing a technology-based economy. Second, Dems running on energy should be quoting Chaney's bumbling claim that the economy depends on ever-higher levels of fossil-fuel consumption. But those are minor points -- the overall effect of the event was positive.

For much of the primary, I cringed at how ham-fisted and left-footed the campaign seemed to be. Sherrod's intelligence and passion have never been subject to debate, but it seemed at times that he couldn't get out of his own way. Lately I've been marvelling at how deft Sherrod Brown has been in messaging the campaign, and how effective in getting that message out.

After the event I spoke to Wilhite whom I had met before. Until recently he headed the Mayor's Office of Economic Development. In that capacity, he has long been a cheerleader for Ovonics -- now he's on board as President and COO. He told me about a potentially exciting effort to forge a bipartisan energy policy in Ohio. I certainly hope Democratic candidates are up on this, it certainly sounds like a campaign issue for Dems. Meanwhile, I hope to have more to say about Ovonics in the future.

POSTSCRIPT: The kids spent the night with grandparents, so Prof. W and I had time for a meal in a grown-up restaurant. We decided to check out Crave -- hadn't been to that point. Crave is second only to Bricco as a Dem power meal spot, so I wasn't surprised to see Finance Chair Wayne Jones heading there as we parked. Or to see Judge Linda Teodosio come in. Or a couple high-powered Dem lawyers.

But when the Mayor came in, it looked like something bigger might be afoot. About halfway out Sherrod came shambling out (he never moves slowly) with a staffer in tow, working to keep up. Apperently he had some sort of high-end fundraiser/reception in the back room.


Kyle said...

Nice pics and summary.

Crave is probably my favorite restaurant downtown. I have yet to order something there that isn't awesome. I hope that district around Crave continues to develop once the art museum opens up.

RJM said...

Good catch on the higher education issue, but that is a big fish to fry, and I wonder how much the feds can help us on that, without state-level support.
FYI, Caltech is in Pasadena, surrounded by LAoids, not in Northern California. I think Cal and Stanford did pretty good on their own, anyhow.

joebu said...

Make sure you do your research on hydrogen before buying into it. Granted, Ovonic does a lot of great things with solar panels and the NiMH battery, but hyrdogen will NOT be part of our alternative energy future.

First, it takes more energy to make hydrogen than what is derived from burning it. Second, it is a very dangerous element. A hydrogen flame is invisible, so in a crash involving a hydrogen vehicle, someone could unknowingly walk into an inferno. Third, because pure hydrogen does not exist naturally on the earth and needs to be synthetically made, a source of energy is still needed, which brings us back to square one.

Making hydrogen may only require electricity and water, but there needs to be an energy source to generate the electricity. As of right now, solar cannot provide enough energy to meet our needs, especially to generate enough hydrogen to power cars.

Hydrogen is not a source of energy. It is simply a form of energy storage. There is a huge difference.