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U.S. Sen. Rob Portman Won’t Seek Reelection in 2022

FILE - This Monday, Oct. 26, 2020, file photo shows Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, speaking during a news conference in Washington. Portman is participating in a COVID-19 vaccine study, hoping to encourage others to volunteer to take part in testing. Portman said in an interview that as much as he supports such precautions as masking and social distancing, vaccine development, distribution and use are the best hope for reducing the pandemic's toll, and he wanted to what he could to help "explain the great potential for these vaccines" and the need for volunteers for trials. (Graeme Jennings/Pool Photo via AP, File)

Local officials are wishing Sen. Rob Portman well and looking forward to working with him through the remainder of his time in office after he announced Monday that he will not seek re-election when his term expires in 2022.

While expressing gratitude to Ohioans who voted him into office, Portman’s statement cited ongoing political division as one reason he will retire from office.

Portman, R-Ohio, has been recognized as a highly bipartisan senator, known to reach out across the aisle to seek common ground. He said Monday that the division in government has made getting things done more difficult.

“It has gotten harder and harder to break through the partisan gridlock and make progress on substantive policy, and that has contributed to my decision,” he said. “We live in an increasingly polarized country where members of both parties are being pushed further to the right and further to the left.”

Portman has been involved in public service for about 30 years. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 12 years and served various roles for eight years in the executive branch.

Portman said he would be busy in the final two years of his term, continuing his work on the Homeland Security Governmental Affairs Committee as well as with other oversight projects and legislation.

“I look forward to being able to focus all my energy on legislation and the challenges our country faces rather than on fundraising and campaigning,” he said. “I still have two more years in my term and I intend to use that time to get a lot done. I’m eager to get across the finish line.”

While he plans to continue to be involved in public policy issues, Portman said he looks forward to spending more time with family in Ohio and to going into the private sector.

Belmont County Commissioner J.P. Dutton has worked with Portman on plans for county-wide projects and programs since Dutton’s election in 2016.

“I was surprised to hear that. I have enjoyed working with him, and we’ll continue to enjoy working with him over the remainder of his term,” Dutton said. “I really appreciated the outreach of his staff. They’ve been very good at keeping in touch on important issues and also seeing where they could be of assistance.”

Dutton said Portman assisted in securing and distributing funding to fight the opioid epidemic. He said Portman has also been active in supporting Belmont County’s large-scale water and sewer project upgrades, with bids for the work expected to be awarded soon.

“His office had been involved in our application process with the U.S. Department of Agriculture,” Dutton said. “He was able to come to Belmont County and really sit down with our board and Kelly Porter (director of) the Sanitary Sewer District and really talk … and hear what our plans were moving forward from a water infrastructure standpoint.”

He said regardless of partisan divisions at higher levels, the commissioners will look forward to working with state and federal officials, including whoever takes Portman’s seat.

“I think we’ve had very good relationships across the board,” Dutton said. “I have a high degree of confidence … when someone does take his place in the Senate, we will continue to have a strong relationship. … As someone who used to work in Washington D.C., I think the divisiveness is well documented at this point.”

Commissioner Jerry Echemann, elected in 2018, has had less experience working with Portman’s office as a politician but has been impressed with Portman’s expertise and unassuming manner.

“I’m really sorry to hear it, because I’ve met him a few times in my role in government and thought he did a wonderful job for Ohio,” Echemann said. “He always seemed very intelligent, very knowledgeable — a very mild-mannered kind of guy. … He was always so professional. I think he spoke well for Ohioans and cared about the state. … I was a big fan of his. I’ll be sorry to see him go.”

Echemann said while he generally dislikes long-time political careers, Portman has proven an able public servant.

“I don’t like to see people in Washington for 30, 40 years like you sometimes see,” he said. “I think it’s a good idea to serve, serve a substantial amount of time and then let somebody else take a crack at it. That’s my overall philosophy, but I’ll certainly be sorry to see him go.”

“Sen. Portman has been very helpful to our local counties,” Belmont County Republican Party Committee member Cynthia Fregiato said, recalling a time when a prior Republican Party chairman, Kent Moore, worked out of Portman’s office.

Fregiato could not say whether the local GOP might have primary candidates for Portman’s seat in 2022.

“When we do have a seat that’s up, usually the whole party coalesces around one central figure. Sometimes there are not primaries, but in this environment there might be,” she said. “The division in Washington is a hard thing to overcome, but you’ve just got to keep trying.”

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