This most unusual presidential election in generations now shifts attention to the selection of candidates for vice president. Donald Trump will no doubt pick the “greatest” person in the history of vice presidential candidates. Let’s hope he balances the ticket with someone who uses information in decisionmaking.
Hillary Clinton has a plethora of good options. Here is a name that may not be on her radar but should be: Rich Cordray.
Before extolling his virtues, let’s review the needs of the Democratic ticket.
Clinton faces the prospect of a divided party. She needs someone who will turn out voters from the almost half of the party that skews younger in age and bolder in policy prescription. Clinton also faces two image problems. Many rate her untrustworthy and inauthentic. True or not, fair or not, she will be running up this hill all fall.
Cordray is currently the director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) — the agency closely associated with the rise to prominence of Elizabeth Warren, who suggested its creation. When it became clear the Senate would not confirm Warren if Abraham Lincoln returned to testify for her, Cordray got the job.
He has successfully built the CFPB into an agency that fights for consumers against the largest financial institutions in the world. It has returned billions to consumers in enforcement actions for deceptive conduct; it has written rules to make mortgage lending safer and fairer, and it has been innovative and efficient in designing new ways to aid individual consumers hoping to resolve disputes with banks.
Wall Street has made eliminating or debilitating the CFPB its priority. Not coincidentally, wiping out the CFPB is on the announced shortlist of the Republican agenda.
Unlike Warren herself, adding Cordray to the ticket would not leave open a critical seat in the Senate to be filled by a Republican governor.
Trump and his allied PACs no doubt will attack Clinton for her ties to Wall Street. (Let us pause for a moment to truly mourn the death of irony from overuse by the reality of Trump.) A VP candidate who is a top target of Wall Street ire offers something like immunity from those charges. More important, a Vice President Cordray would be just the sort of policy-focused, results-oriented adviser who would help Clinton actually improve the lives of hundreds of millions of Americans.
Cordray lives in Columbus, Ohio, and before becoming the head of the CFPB, he brought cases against Wall Street firms as Ohio state treasurer and Ohio attorney general during the mortgage meltdown and financial crisis. Repeat: Cordray has won two statewide elections in Ohio.
But it is his deep well of integrity and old-school public-service values that most prompts the suggestion of picking Cordray. I had the privilege of watching him build the CFPB as a member of the inaugural Consumer Advisory Board. He is a rare find in public life — a person who inspires by consistently aiming for the public good and always doing so with integrity and humor.
Cordray has an unimpeachable reputation for honesty. He is modest and plain in manner while being wickedly smart.
And he has courage in the face of political risks. In 1993, Cincinnati voters approved a ban on any city laws and policies that would prohibit discrimination against gay residents. Cordray was a lead attorney challenging the constitutionality of this law while contemplating running for elected office. Fifteen years later, Clinton, as senator from New York, and Barack Obama, as senator from Illinois, had yet to evolve on gay marriage.
Speakers often introduce Cordray by mentioning his multiple “Jeopardy” championships. What may be more impressive is that he appeared on “Jeopardy” while CFPB director in 2014 to compete in a contest of past champions. He came in second and turned down the money because he was a federal employee. How many politicians would volunteer to compete for fun in an unscripted contest they might lose?
Cordray would be a surprising choice. Picking him wouldn’t seem to be the result of just calculation for political gain, with one exception. Did I mention he is from Ohio?
Prentiss Cox is an associate professor of law and co-director of the Law in Practice Program at the University of Minnesota Law School Clinic.