Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown vowed to be the “most pro-union candidate” in the presidential race Saturday during a swing through casino-gilded Las Vegas, where Culinary workers met him in the shadow of the Strip.
The possible presidential contender said he won’t make a decision about entering the 2020 race until late March. But the Democrat offered a glimpse of what a Brown presidency would look like: The three-term senator said his first act as the nation’s commander in chief would be to pool corporate leaders in the Oval Office for a discussion about how much they pay their lower-level employees or contracted workers.
He suggested $15 an hour would be a good starting point for the minimum wage.
“For a change, we will have a government on the side of workers, not a government on the side of corporations,” Brown said.
His pitch drew applause from the dozens of union members gathered at the Culinary Workers Union Local 226 headquarters. The Culinary Union represents roughly 60,000 workers in Las Vegas and Reno, many of whom work in casinos as cooks, housekeepers or service workers. In other words, the group was a prime audience for Brown’s “Dignity of Work” tour, which has made stops so far in Iowa and New Hampshire as the Ohio native explores a presidential bid.
Brown said he would be giving Station Casinos executives a call to discuss labor unions. The Las Vegas-based casino company has been fighting a National Labor Relations Board order for Green Valley Ranch to negotiate contracts with the Culinary Union.
“I plan to say that you should come to the bargaining table, as I say to companies in Ohio,” he said.
His Nevada visit also included a fundraiser at Lovelady Brewing in Henderson and a question-and-answer session with Nevada residents Saturday night in downtown Las Vegas. Brown used the trio of events as an introduction of sorts to Nevada residents, who live 2,000-some miles from the state he represents. He joked about his gravelly voice, lobbed praise on his wife, Connie Schultz, a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist, and talked about how his daughter practices immigration law.
But the bulk of his message boiled down to making the United States livable for the average worker — whether it be a manufacturing employee in northeast Ohio or a casino worker in Las Vegas. It followed a similar narrative that he’s deployed throughout his political career in Ohio, where he started as a state lawmaker before becoming secretary of state, a member of the House of Representatives and, now, a senator. In November, he won re-election by nearly 7 percentage points in a state that swung toward President Trump in 2016.
Brown criticized his own party for not focusing enough attention on labor issues, which he said includes wages, benefits, safety and work schedules. He said labor voices should exist in all corners of federal government, including the departments of homeland security, agriculture, interior and education.
“We should see our country and our economy and our government through the eyes of workers,” he said.
He also fielded numerous questions about health care. Brown didn’t pan the Medicare-for-all concept but said it’s unlikely Congress would pass such a bill any time soon.
Instead, the senator posed his health-care solutions: offering Medicare buy-in at age 50, establishing a public insurance option, which he said would compete with the private industry, bolstering protections for people with pre-existing conditions and lowering the cost of prescription drugs.
“I understand the appeal of Medicare-for-all, but I want to get something done that will help people now,” he said.
Addressing immigration, Brown called family separations at the U.S.-Mexico border “probably the most immoral thing” the government has done during his lifetime.
“We need to fight back on that,” he said. “We clearly need to pass an immigration bill.”
Brown’s Las Vegas tour brought out some Ohio transplants who nodded in the audience when the senator mentioned cities such as Ashtabula, Lorain, Akron and Toledo. The question, of course, is whether his Rust Belt-style persona will resonate with voters across the country.
Christina Karas, an Ohio native now living in Las Vegas, wore a sweatshirt labeled “Cleveland or Nowhere” to the Lovelady Brewing stop. She’s hopeful Brown and his wife will appeal to people in her new community.
“They’re real people,” she said. “They care about their neighbors. They care about their community and they do the best thing for them in the spirit of public service.”
He’s not the only presidential-hopeful trying to woo Nevada residents, though. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren visited Las Vegas last weekend, and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker has an event planned Sunday in North Las Vegas.