If Ted Strickland wins a seat in the U.S. Senate in 2016, he would, at age 75, be the oldest freshman ever elected to the chamber by popular vote. The Ohio Democrat would also arrive in Washington with something else unusual for a freshman senator: He's already collecting a congressional pension.
The pension is a benefit accrued during two separate stints in the U.S. House of Representatives, from 1993 to 1995, and from 1997 to 2007. And Strickland began collecting pension payments in 2008 while serving as Ohio's governor, according to financial documents filed during his governorship.
Strickland's annual pension was worth $31,668 in 2009, according to a Columbus Dispatch report detailing the tax returns he released during his 2010 reelection bid.
If elected, Strickland would apparently not be able to simultaneously draw both a $174,000 Senate salary and his House pension, according to federal retirement rules. Presumably, he would collect the larger salary. His campaign spokesman did not answer questions about Strickland's plans.
"Although the congressional retirement checks stop coming when an ex-lawmaker reenters the House or Senate, the benefits will only be sweeter when he or she retires again," noted Pete Sepp, president of the National Taxpayers Union, which tracks congressional pensions.
Strickland's pension highlights both his advanced age and his long career as a politician—two facets of his biography that Republicans relish pointing out.
In fact, Strickland may be eligible for, or even already collecting, a second public pension from his work in Ohio, where he served one term as governor and also worked as a consulting psychologist for a state prison and as a professor. Ohio retirement rules require five years of state service; it's not clear if his prior jobs count toward that total. Strickland's campaign did not say if he was eligible or collecting a state pension.
The former governor is considered a top Democratic recruit in one of the battleground Senate races of 2016. National party strategists believe he is the Democrat best positioned to take on Republican Sen. Rob Portman in a race Democrats likely must win to take back control of the Senate. A recent poll from Quinnipiac University showed Strickland already leading Portman.
For years, Strickland has campaigned on his humble Appalachian roots, as the son of a steelworker and the eighth of nine children. His family, as his campaign biography notes, once had to live in a chicken shack when their house burned down.
In 2006, his last year in Congress, Strickland ranked 365th out of 435 members with an estimated net worth of $97,502, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. In contrast, Portman ranked 15th in the Senate in 2013, with an estimated net worth of $16.8 million.
Strickland's pensioner status could emerge as a political issue in the primary, long before he can take on Portman. He currently faces opposition from P.G. Sittenfeld, a 30-year-old Cincinnati city councilman who is one of the youngest Senate candidates in the country. Sittenfeld reported raising $750,000 in the first quarter of 2015, slightly more than the $670,000 Strickland raised in about a month less time.
It is not unusual for members of Congress to layer taxpayer-paid pensions from state and local government atop taxpayer-paid federal salaries—a practice some criticize as "double-dipping." A National Journal investigation in 2013 found nearly 100 lawmakers doing so.
If Strickland is collecting a state-level pension, he would be entitled to receive it in addition to his Senate salary. Records from his governorship show Strickland layered his congressional pension on top of his gubernatorial salary in 2008, 2009, and 2010.