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Politically Speaking is WVXU Senior Political Analyst Howard Wilkinson's column that examines the world of politics and how it shapes the world around us.

Analysis: Sherrod Brown just scored a big win in a tough election year with fentanyl act

two men lean into to talk to each other
Manuel Balce Ceneta
Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, left, and Tim Scott, R-S.C. talk during a Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs hearing, Tuesday, March 28, 2023, on Capitol Hill, in Washington.

Ohio's senior senator, Democrat Sherrod Brown, has been in elective office for nearly half a century and he knows full well the power of incumbency.

Not the power of name recognition or the power of campaign fundraising; not the natural advantages an incumbent has when he or she walks in a room of voters.

For Brown, his 17-year tenure in the Senate affords him the power of knowing how to get legislation passed by Congress with bipartisan support.

In this case, it was the FEND Off Fentanyl Act, a piece of legislation introduced a year ago by Sen. Tim Scott, the South Carolina Republican who has been angling to be named Donald Trump's running mate.

But it took Brown's effort to shepherd the bill through Congress; and it was passed and signed into law this week as part of a $95 billion aid package for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan.

The new fentanyl law declares trafficking in the often-lethal drug a national emergency. More importantly, it gives the U.S. Treasury Department more leeway to fight money laundering by the cartels who ship the drug into this country. And it gives the government the authority to make use of forfeited property of drug dealers to fund law enforcement.

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It is an important win for Brown for two reasons — most importantly, the FEND Off Fentanyl Act could save lives. Secondly, it will be a boon to the tough re-election campaign the Democrat finds himself in this year.

"It was important to do this now," Brown told WVXU. "It's hit every community; almost everybody knows someone who has died from addiction or died from fentanyl poisoning."

In Ohio, a state with one of the highest drug overdose rates in the country, fentanyl is an issue which transcends partisan politics. It is not a Democratic issue, nor is it a Republican issue.

Fentanyl's insidious effect has been felt in every corner of the state — the big cities, the suburban conclaves, the rural farmland of western Ohio, the small towns of the Appalachian foothills of Southeast Ohio.

Red counties, blue counties. From the Ohio River to Lake Erie. The curse of fentanyl is everywhere.

And you can expect the Brown campaign's TV ads about the FEND Off Fentanyl Act to hit the airwaves any day now.

Brown's success in getting this passed in the $95 billion foreign aid bill left Brown's Republican opponent, former car dealer Bernie Moreno, gobsmacked.

Moreno, now in his first statewide race, was on record saying that he would have voted against the $95 billion aid package had he been in the Senate.

He favored the Israel portion, but, like the junior senator from Ohio, Republican J.D. Vance, sided with Trump in opposition to aid to Ukraine.

The Brown campaign and the Ohio Democratic Party immediately pounced on Moreno, saying he would not support the FEND Off Fentanyl Act.

Moreno's campaign told this to WVXU:

"Bernie is happy to see any action to stop the flow of fentanyl into our country and would have supported this as a standalone bill," said Reagan McCarthy, a spokesperson for Moreno's campaign. "However, Sherrod Brown has a long record of supporting open border policies that have exacerbated the fentanyl crisis."

Brown counters there was no chance at this point of a standalone vote on the FEND Off Fentanyl Act.

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"I really don't care what (Moreno) says," Brown said. "If you can do it in a standalone bill, fine. Do it. But you can't sit around waiting for that."

Brown said he had earlier tried to get it passed as part of the defense re-authorization act, but failed "because of the chaos over in the House."

This time, it was buried deep inside the foreign aid bill. If you wanted to vote for aid to Israel, you had no choice but to vote for Brown's legislation as well.

"Moreno has already said he's not going to work with the other party if he is elected," Brown said. "How can he expect to get anything done?"

Howard Wilkinson is in his 50th year of covering politics on the local, state and national levels.