Serving three terms in the House of Representatives, Betty Sutton dedicated herself to helping the middle class. “Here I am, just a generation later, this daughter, this proud daughter of a boilermaker in the House of Representatives with a chance to fight for families just like mine.”1 Sutton’s blue-collar upbringing guided her legislative agenda.
The youngest of six children born to Leo and Mary Lou Sutton in Barberton, Ohio, Elizabeth “Betty” Sue was born on July 31, 1963. After serving in the military during World War II, Leo worked as a boiler maker and Mary Lou worked as a clerk-treasurer for the city library.2 Betty Sutton graduated from Barberton High School in 1981. While in high school, she decided to pursue a public service career.3 She received a B.A. from Kent State University, Kent, Ohio in 1985, and in 1990, she earned a J.D. from the University of Akron, in Ohio. Her first marriage ended in divorce.4 Later, Sutton married Doug Corwon. She has two step children.
As a law student, Sutton had her first taste of politics as a member of the Barberton City, Ohio, city council in 1990. In 1991, she earned a seat on the Summit County, Ohio, council, where she later served as president. In 1992, Sutton sought and won a seat in the Ohio state house of representatives. At the time, she was the youngest woman to ever win a seat in the state house. Sutton remained in the state house until term limits forced her to leave the legislature in 2000. She returned to her legal career and worked as a labor lawyer.
After Representative Sherrod Brown of Ohio left his U.S. House seat to run for the U.S. Senate in 2006, Sutton jumped into a crowded Democratic primary for the Akron based district, along the Cuyahoga River. She won the eight-way primary with 31 percent of the vote, defeating top candidates Tom Sawyer, a former U.S. Representative, and Cleveland city councilman Gary Kucinich. In the general election for the 110th Congress (2007–2009), Sutton defeated Republican Craig Foltin with 61 percent of the vote. Sutton won re-election to the two succeeding Congresses with more than 55 percent of the vote.5
Serving as freshman class president, Sutton worked closely with House Democratic Leadership and received the praise of Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California. “In Betty Sutton, her colleagues have chosen a Freshman Class President whose intellect and passion will be an invaluable resource for the Democratic Caucus and the entire Congress,” Pelosi observed.6
In her first term, Sutton served on three key committees: Budget, Rules, and Judiciary. As a sophomore Member of the 111th Congress (2009–2011), she moved to the exclusive Energy and Commerce Committee. Sutton viewed the move as a means to work closer with the President, “delivering the change that my constituents and our country want and deserve.”7 In the 112th Congress (2011–2013), when Republicans won control of the House, Sutton lost her seat on Energy and Commerce, and joined the Natural Resources and Armed Services Committees.8
During her tenure in Congress, Sutton succeeded on many of her legislative endeavors. As a freshman, Sutton was the lead sponsor of the CARS program (Car Allowance Rebate System) also known as the “Cash for Clunkers” stimulus program, which provided tax refunds to individuals that traded in older model vehicles for more fuel-efficient, new cars. The program benefited the Ohio car manufacturing facilities located near her district. “GM’s announcement that is returning 1,100 people to work in northeast Ohio is great and welcome news,” Representative Sutton said. “I am pleased that the demand created by the Cash for Clunkers program is helping to put people back to work, which was one of the primary goals of the legislation.”9
In the 111th Congress, she introduced the Consumer Assistance to Recycle and Save Act, later renamed the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (H.R. 2751).10 Becoming law on January 4, 2011, the bill expanded the Food and Drug Administration’s authority. “This much-needed legislation will help ensure that the food in our children's lunch boxes and on our family's dinner table is safe to eat.” Sutton continued, “The bill gives the FDA the authority it needs to protect the American people and keep toxic food products off our shelves.”11
After the 2010 Census, the state of Ohio lost two House seats. In 2012, state redistricting pitted Sutton against one-term incumbent Republican Jim Renacci. Renacci defeated Sutton with 52 percent of the votes. In her concession speech, Sutton remarked, “Coming from an ordinary, working class background and making it here, I feel so very grateful for having had the chance, and doing what my office and I have been able to do.”12
1Tracy Carloss, “Congresswoman Betty Sutton in Unique Race Against Another Incumbent, Jim Renacci,” http://www.newsnet5.com/dpp/news/political/congresswoman-betty-sutton-in-a-unique-race-against-another-incumbent-jim-renacci#ixzz2Or34dkwB, 23 October 2012 (accessed 15 April 2013).
2Sabrina Eaton, “U.S. Rep. Betty Sutton finding success in Congress: Her ‘Cash for Clunkers’ Ideas a Hit,” http://www.cleveland.com/open/index.ssf/2009/08/us_representative_betty_sutton.html, 16 August 2009 (accessed 16 April 2013).
3Jesse Harris, "Rep. Betty Sutton, 50 Most Beautiful People on Capitol Hill," 29 July 2008, The Hill, http://thehill.com (accessed 8 April 2013).
4“Election Statistics, 1920 to Present,” http://history.house.gov/Institution/Election-Statistics/Election-Statistics/.
5Politics in America, 2010 (Washington, D.C.: Congressional Quarterly Inc., 2009): 806.
6“Betty Sutton Elected to Lead Democratic Freshman Class,” La Prensa (18 July 2008): 6.
7Jean Dubail, “Rep. Fudge to Serve on Science, Education Committies,” Cleveland.com (accessed 15 May 2013).
8Sabrina Eaton, “Reps, Sutton and Tim Ryan to Serve on the Armed Services Committee,” Cleveland.com (accessed 15 May 2013).
9Office of Representative Betty Sutton, “Rep. Betty Sutton Announces That 1,100 People Will Return to Work At GM Plant in Lordstown, Ohio,” 19 August 2009, http://web.archive.org/web/20121225032116/http://sutton.house.gov/press-releases/rep-betty-sutton-announces-that-1100-people-will-return-to-work-at-gm-plant-in-lordstown-ohio/, (accessed 11 April 2013)
10“H.R. 1550 – Consumer Assistance to Recycle and Save Act of 2009,” Congress.Gov, http://beta.congress.gov (accessed 11 April 2013).
11Office of Representative Betty Sutton, “Rep. Sutton and House Approve Food Safety Bill,” 8 December 2010, http://web.archive.org/web/20121220203546/http://sutton.house.gov/press-releases/rep-sutton-and-house-approve-food-safety-bill/, (accessed 11 April 2013).
12Sabrina Eaton, “Betty Sutton Says She’s Grateful for Her Time in Congress,” Cleveland.com, 24 December 2012.