Country Before Party

Worcester Telegram & Gazette
By Robert Nemeth

When Scott Brown, then a little-known Republican state legislator, was running to win what many regarded as the “Kennedy seat” in the U.S. Senate, he promised to bring an open and independent mind to the job. It sounded like routine campaign rhetoric aspiring politicians often use. He won a special election against overwhelming odds, and now he’s one of the most formidable lawmakers on Capitol Hill. Just as significant, he has kept his promise.

He says he is “totally disgusted” with the extensive partisanship that has caused a gridlock in Congress. “The problem in Washington is that people are more concerned with the party than with the country,” he told me during an interview last week. “I am an American first. I read every bill carefully to make sure I understand the issue and see if it benefits Massachusetts and our country. Then I vote regardless of what political party initiated the measure.”

For example, he recently sided with the Democrats in the debate on disaster relief. “We have people in Massachusetts and across the country who need disaster assistance now, but partisan politics threatened to hold it back,” he explained. “With economic instability in the United States and around the world, it was unacceptable for Congress to threaten the marketplace with another government shutdown.”

He dismisses suggestions that his occasional support of Democratic initiatives would strengthen the other party and its head in the White House. His ideology is firmly rooted in conservative principles. He wants to see ObamaCare repealed and is sharply critical of the president’s latest deficit plan. “Higher taxes will hurt job growth,” he stated. “I believe we need comprehensive tax reform that would eliminate certain loopholes and credits and use the savings to lower rates for businesses and individuals. A simple tax system that leaves people with more money to spend and invest is how we’re going to make America prosperous again.”

Asked whether he would like to see Barack Obama re-elected or not, he replied indirectly: “I’m not happy with the direction in which the country is going.” He said Mitt Romney is his choice for president. “He’s the only one among the candidates with true business knowledge and proven executive ability,” he noted.

Along with debt and deficit reduction, fiscal prudence and job creation, national security and public safety are high on his agenda. He co-sponsored a bill banning business contracts with enemies of the United States. He applauded the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S.-born al-Qaida chief. Last month, he sent a letter to Janet Napolitano, secretary of Homeland Security, requesting full activation of the Secure Communities program in Massachusetts without the support of Gov. Deval Patrick. The program enlists federal cooperation to deport illegal immigrants arrested for serious crimes. Mr. Brown cited recent occasions when “the lives of at least three people in Massachusetts could have been saved had Secure Communities been in place.”

In June, the governor announced he would not allow the commonwealth to participate. Three Bay State sheriffs, including Lew Evangelidis of Worcester County, traveled to Washington to discuss activating Secure Communities in their jurisdiction now rather than waiting for the 2013 target date. Mr. Brown says Secretary Napolitano expressed interest in jump-starting the program as soon as possible.

He deplored the Palestinians’ unilateral statehood bid in the United Nations, declaring the Palestinian Authority has “thumbed its nose” at U.S. efforts to establish a diplomatic solution allowing both sides to coexist peacefully. “The United States must reevaluate its diplomatic relationship with the Palestinian Authority,” he said. “We must examine foreign aid we provide to them. The right course for America is to stand by Israel and to require the Palestinians to renounce violence, recognize Israel’s right to exist and come to the bargaining table in good faith.”

A lieutenant colonel in the National Guard, Mr. Brown has backed the war effort in Afghanistan and says he is “hopeful” an acceptable conclusion can be achieved. While he was “disturbed by the lack of military progress” during his recent stay in the war zone, he was impressed by the dedication and sacrifices of our troops. “We need to gradually transfer responsibility to local government and security forces,” he stressed. “Pulling out abruptly would not be appropriate because it would create a huge vacuum.”

While Scott Brown was a huge underdog in 2009, today he’s acknowledged as the most popular politician in Massachusetts. Still, he’s not taking anything for granted and is ready for the next election more than a year ahead. A campaign manager, Jim Barnett, is in place, and there’s a campaign chest with nearly $10 million. He knows the Democrats still dominate politics in Massachusetts and that they will pull out all the stops to recapture the “Kennedy seat.” He says he has yet to meet Elizabeth Warren, the leftist Harvard professor the Democratic establishment anointed as its great populist hope to unseat Mr. Brown.

“I’m ready for anybody,” he told me. “I’ll debate anybody on any issue. I think we’ll have the resources to prevail. Most important, I’ll work my tail off to convince people to vote for me because I represent their interests with integrity and an open mind.”

Uttered by most politicians, those words would sound like campaign rhetoric. But Scott Brown has proved he means what he says.

Robert Z. Nemeth’s column appears regularly in the Sunday Telegram.

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