COLUMBUS (AP) — In the halls of the Ohio Statehouse, it’s usually not hard to guess which lawmaker is state Rep. Scott Lipps.
He’s the one wearing a large belt buckle shaped like a pair of red lips, often with a matching custom-made leather belt. He has lip-themed ties and shoes. He even has a tattoo of a pair of lips on his ankle.
To some, Lipps’ fashion may smack of being a bit tacky — or even crass, in the case of the belt buckle. But the first-term Republican from Warren County northeast of Cincinnati has two reasons for it: one political, the other personal.
During his campaigns — first for city council in Franklin, Ohio, then for mayor and state Legislature — Lipps said he’s worked to build up his last name into a brand that allows him to stand out from other candidates.
For down-ticket offices like his, he said, “people aren’t necessarily voting because they believe in your stance, or they believe in your ethics, or you were their mayor and you did a good job with their fire department. They’re actually voting at that point on who had the best sign that they read, or who had a lip balm.”
With that in mind, Lipps estimated he’s handed out to voters nearly 17,000 sticks of lip balm with his name on them. During his 2016 House campaign, he distributed about 750 shirts with nothing but a big pair of lips on them. Another 500 or so ties were given as thank-you gifts to supporters.
And Lipps says it’s worked. He’s run into people in the supermarket who don’t recognize his face but are wearing one of his campaign shirts.
“The brand has become very popular, in terms of having a brand as a politician,” he said.
But Lipps has a need to boost the image of his last name that goes beyond political pragmatism.
In middle school, Lipps was bullied by classmates who found it easy to use his last name as a verbal weapon. What they called him is “probably not printable,” he said.
“I think that made me a little tougher. So I start playing with the name,” he said. “We kind of made a fun thing out of it.”
Lipps has two daughters, and he said his political branding helped them avoid a similar fate in school.
“We had to control the name and keep it positive in our community,” he said. “That way, our kids were never bullied or bothered with it.”
One side effect of his last name, though, has been that people have always given him lip-themed gifts — whether he wants them or not.
“People I don’t even know will come to my house and they’ll give me a chip clip — they buy them for a dollar, and it’s got a pair of lips on it. Now one of the things that’s uncomfortable is you want them to feel excited — they did that for you, they thought of you. Well, I probably have 150 of them,” he said.