An unlikely friendship: Local senators put politics aside to do what’s best for the Valley

Local News

Mike Rulli and Sean O'Brien paid a visit to WKBN's studio on Friday to talk with anchor Stan Boney

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – Michael Rulli is a Republican from Mahoning County and Sean O’Brien is a Democrat from Trumbull County. They serve together in the Ohio Senate but despite their difference in political parties, they’re often seen working together.

Both men paid a visit to WKBN’s studio on Friday to talk with anchor Stan Boney.

The interview began with a pinch…

“How do we look?” O’Brien asked while Rulli pinched him on the cheek.

…and a pat on the back.

“I’m always looking out for you, Michael,” O’Brien continued while Rulli patted him on the back.

It then shifted to how they work together, despite O’Brien being a Democrat and Rulli a Republican.

“We’ve always agreed on what’s best for the Valley and we’ve worked to those ends,” O’Brien said.

“I mean, I bet you 65 to 70% of things we agree on,” Rulli said.

They had never met until shortly after Rulli was elected in Nov. 2018.

“I gave him a call and said, ‘Hey, we should sit down and talk,'” O’Brien said.

And since that first meeting, how often do they talk?

“Every day, every day. Yeah, we spend a lot of time together,” O’Brien said.

“More than our wives,” Rulli joked.

“Yeah. Honestly, probably more than our wives,” O’Brien laughed.

After the GM Lordstown plant closed, O’Brien and Rulli visited Workhorse’s Cincinnati operation together, which eventually became Lordstown Motors Corp.

“And he’s like, ‘Man, we’re really on to something.’ And then they put us both in the truck and we’re driving the truck around Cincinnati and he looks at me and goes, ‘There’s something here,'” Rulli said.

When $2 million was awarded to remove dams along the Mahoning River, Rulli was criticized for inviting O’Brien to his news conference. But, O’Brien was on the committee that approved the money.

“So they were going to pull it out of the budget and Sean kept it in,” Rulli said.

But then there was the heartbeat abortion bill.

“I voted no on that,” O’Brien said.

“I voted yes on that,” Rulli said.

“So we do have disagreements. There are things that we do not agree on,” O’Brien said.

On Friday, O’Brien filed for re-election to represent Ohio’s 32nd district. He’ll likely have Republican opposition. So who will Rulli support?

“I’m staying out of that. That election will fall where it needs to fall. Our hearts and prayers are with Sean and I wish him the best,” Rulli said.

“I get where he has to be and I wouldn’t hold it against him,” O’Brien said.

Rulli says he’s moderate right and O’Brien’s moderate left, so at least they share the moderate side of politics.

“But we’re able to do it because we’re working together. We’re putting that partisan part aside. That’s what I think is the big factor — what is best for our Valley first,” O’Brien said.

Boney asked if they’ve been criticized by people in their respective parties about how they work together. They said it’s more of a teasing than a criticism.

O’Brien also admitted that with the Ohio legislature dominated by Republicans, he knows he has to work with Republicans to get anything done, but that’s where Rulli can help.

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