What Was Rob Portman Thinking?

03/15/2015 10:04 am ET | Updated May 15, 2015

In recent public polling from Ohio, a consistent truth about the state's junior senator, Rob Portman, is that much of the electorate simply doesn't have a sense of who he is.

This past week offered voters noteworthy examples of how Rob Portman sees the world -- and they demonstrate unimpressive judgment:

During events commemorating the 50th anniversary of the March in Selma, Alabama, Portman said that restoring key provisions to the Voting Rights Act following the Supreme Court's 2013 gutting of core pieces of the historic legislation was a mere matter of making "tweaks." Moreover, Portman admitted to not even being aware of existing Senate legislation to make these crucial restorations.

Next, only days later, Portman signed on to a widely-criticized letter by freshman senator and Tea Party darling, Tom Cotton, undermining his own government in its negotiations with Iran and compromising our national security.

Rob Portman likes to project the image of someone who thinks carefully about the issues. Yet, these two recent examples make one wonder what exactly he was thinking.

To be clear, I have nothing against Rob Portman as a person. But there is a stark difference in our visions for Ohio and for our country.

I believe that the United States is strongest at home when we support everyone's ability to speak up and speak out: A central part of that is guaranteeing that all Americans are able to vote without encountering unnecessary obstacles along the way.

Further, I believe that the United States is strongest on the international stage when politics ends at the water's edge and we don't compromise national security interests with blatantly political actions.

Photo-ops and grandstanding do not translate into leadership.

For Rob Portman to attend the celebration commemorating the bravery of civil rights leaders who marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, and tell reporters that: "This day is about more than just tweaks to the Voting Rights Act," shows a senator who is deeply out-of-touch. This is the same man who also voted against the National Voter Registration Act. The Supreme Court's 2013 ruling eroded much of what was at the core of the Voting Rights Act, leaving states with histories of voter discrimination free to erect new hurdles to the ballot box. Indeed, Portman has supported reducing ballot access in his home state of Ohio.

Portman said he is interested in "learning from the lessons of the past," but later conveyed: "That he doesn't know if parts of it [the Voting Rights Act] need to be strengthened."

Senator, they do -- urgently.

The reach of Rob Portman's bad week went well beyond his startling comments in Selma.

Actions matters more than words, and while Portman wishes to come across as measured, his decision to be among the 47 Republican senators who sent a letter to the leaders of Iran undermining the current diplomatic process was irresponsible at best and dangerous at worst.

Without question, Iran's nuclear program is a serious threat which must be handled firmly. But Portman's impulse to first play politics is not the way. The Cincinnati Enquirer didn't mince words to their hometown senator, saying: "Portman's decision to sign the letter to Iran was a mistake."

In the course of the current election cycle, Ohioans will get to know Rob Portman better, and it will become increasingly apparent that his decision-making is short-sighted and out-of-touch.

As I travel the state talking with families and students and seniors, it's clear they want new leadership and a fresh approach to solving problems. Ohioans can't afford more of Rob Portman's poor judgment. They deserve new representation which puts people, not politics, first.