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Brown had low-key style in state Legislature

As a state representative, and later a state senator, Scott Brown was active on environmental issues.Globe Staff/File 2001

When Scott Brown arrived in Washington almost three years ago, the spotlight was glaring. Packs of reporters followed his every move. “Saturday Night Live’’ spoofed his hunky looks. Fellow senators swooned. “The Scott Brown election sent shudders through the Capitol,” Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee declared.

It was a stark contrast from the Wrentham Republican’s arrival on Beacon Hill in 1998 and the 11-year tenure that followed.

While Brown came to be known in the state Legislature — first in the House and later in the Senate — for his casual style and ability to cross the aisle, he was not seen as a policy wonk, or a firebrand opposition leader in the mold of some of his GOP peers.


As the tiny Republican contingent fought to be heard in the overwhelmingly Democratic Legislature, Brown was rarely out in front with other Republicans pushing the opposition’s debate, according to more than two dozen colleagues in both parties. He was dutiful in working for constituents, but was not known for delivering memorable speeches or working behind the scenes to press an aggressive agenda.

House Minority Leader Bradley H. Jones recalls Brown working hardest for his district, such as on education funding for local communities and transportation projects.

“I viewed him as focused on district bills,” said Jones. “You wouldn’t ever see him on the big policy issues.’’

Several Republican colleagues in the Senate said they remember that at points during the five-member GOP caucuses, Brown took care of his office correspondence, writing notes to his constituents while fellow Republicans hashed out priorities and strategies.

Brown’s record shows he focused on a few select issues. A longtime member of the state’s Army National Guard, he was an advocate for veterans, working at one point to help them access available benefits.

The senator, who later acknowledged he had been the victim of sexual assault at a Cape Cod summer camp, also spoke out for tougher sex offender laws, once bucking Senate decorum when he felt the Democratic leadership was stalling. That legislation ultimately passed.


Representing middle-class and wealthy suburban communities, Brown also pushed conservation policies that affected his district.

Brown’s US Senate campaign staff said his career as a state lawmaker set the groundwork for a successful and sudden rise to fill the late Edward M. Kennedy’s seat.

“Senator Brown’s service in the State House prepared him to be the effective and productive United States Senator he is today,’’ spokesman Colin Reed said. “He knows that building consensus and working across the aisle are the best ways to get things done for his constituents.’’

Given the sheer volume of proposals that pass through a state legislature that involve mundane business such as land transfers and other nonpartisan issues, it’s hard to know precisely the percentage of time Brown voted with the Democratic majority over the course of his 11 years, though he was known to cross party lines.

Few of his State House colleagues — in the Legislature, and in the executive branch — were willing to speak on the record because of political sensitivities.

But one former Republican colleague said Brown seems to have blossomed since leaving Beacon Hill. “He seems much more engaged in the US Senate,” the former colleague said. “He seems to have grown leaps and bounds from his days here in the Legislature.”


Elected to the House in 1998 after serving on the Wrentham Board of Selectmen, Brown cut an understated profile when he arrived in the 160-member chamber. The State House News Service, which chronicles the day-to-day developments in the Legislature, mentioned Brown’s work only a handful of times in his five years as a representative.

One of the first such mentions was in the winter of 2000, when Brown cosponsored a bill that would have banned taxpayer-funded sex-change operations for inmates. The proposal, which died that year, made headlines again this fall when a federal judge ordered state officials to provide a taxpayer-funded sex change for the inmate now known as Michelle Kosilek.

In 2001, Brown touched off something of a political fire­storm when, in an interview with the Globe, he disparaged a Democratic state Senator and her partner for deciding to have children, saying it was “not normal” for two women to have a baby. He later backed off those statements and now, more than a decade later, he brushes past the issue, saying gay marriage is a matter of settled law.

But most of his work in those early years focused on on lower-profile local issues — efforts important to voters in his communities.

When a state Senate seat opened up in early 2004, Brown demonstrated his political skills by winning the special election against heavy odds. The race was held the same day as the presidential primary that overwhelmingly favored the Democrats and it featured a Democratic opponent, Angus McQuilken, who repeatedly hammered Brown as “one of the least accomplished members of the Massachusetts House of Representatives.”


From the get-go in the smaller, 40-member Senate, he made more of an impression than in the House, colleagues said.

Part of that was that Brown’s political star had begun to rise. Bolstered by his new Senate credentials, he started dropping hints that he may be interested in running for statewide office. In 2006, he unsuccessfully lobbied Republican gubernatorial candidate Kerry Healey to choose him as her running mate for lieutenant governor.

When he began his run in 2009 as the long shot for the US Senate in the special election to replace Kennedy, he made no secret to GOP insiders that his real plan was to set himself up to run for attorney general the next year.

Throughout his career on Beacon Hill, Brown’s ties to Governor Mitt Romney, a fellow Republican, were not close. Over the four years they served together, Brown voted with the Democrats to override Romney’s vetoes about 40 percent of the time, according to a compilation of his votes from the Senator’s campaign.

Overall, Brown’s votes in both the House and Senate were a mixed bag ideologically. He supported legalized abortions, yet he still won the endorsement from the state’s antiabortion lobby in his first US Senate race. But he also took conservative stands: He got top marks from the state’s gun lobby, filed bills to require voters to present identification at polling places, and advocated for keeping limits on welfare benefits.


Throughout his legislative career, he adhered to the anti-tax lobby’s “no new taxes’’ pledge, earning him some of the highest ratings given by Citizens for Limited Taxation. His claims of opposing any tax increases, however, were punctured by several votes in which he supported legislation that anti-tax leaders denounced at the time as tax increases.

Colleagues recall that Brown could be passionate about pushing the core issues he cared about.

In 2006, he demanded that the Democratic leadership reconvene the Senate, which had adjourned its formal sessions for the year, to finalize legislation on extending the criminal statute of limitations in cases involving alleged sexual abuse of children. The Legislature never formally reconvened, but did ultimately pass the legislation six weeks later.

It would be another half a decade, after he had moved on to the US Senate, that he revealed that he had been a victim of sexual abuse at a youth camp on Cape Cod.

Brown’s legislative success on behalf of veterans involved those returning from overseas deployment. After he heard that some of those veterans were unaware that they were eligible for “Welcome Home” bonuses, Brown in 2007 successfully pushed for a box to be added to state tax forms allowing returning veterans to more easily take advantage of the program.

He also lobbied for Plainridge Racecourse, the horse track in his district, repeatedly pushing the Democratic leadership — unsuccessfully — to approve legislation legalizing slot machines there.

Daniel Winslow, who served as Norfolk town moderator and now holds Brown’s House seat, recalled Brown’s commitment to his district. On a number of occasions, he said, Brown would call him to help straighten out a problem a constituent was having with a local agency. He cited an example of a developer who was having trouble securing permits from town officials. Brown, he said, was persistent in making sure Winslow was on top of it.

“He was dogged,’’ said Winslow, a strong Brown political supporter. “If you didn’t call him right away with an answer, he would be right back at you. He was a bulldog when he was fighting for his constituents.’’

The list of legislative accomplishments provided by Brown’s campaign included a push to put automatic defibrillators on MBTA trains, amending an ethics bill to include a ban on judges from maintaining campaign accounts.

The campaign also cites a 2005 bill promoting stem cell research to establish an umbilical cord blood and placental tissue bank at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. He boasted in literature from one of his state Senate campaigns that the amendment “created a cutting edge’’ bank. Yet no such bank was ever created, according to a spokesman for the medical school.

In addition, the campaign said Brown was able to “secure a $2 million increase for the Metco budget’’ just weeks after he won a special election to the Senate in 2004. That may have left the impression he was the driving force behind the extra funding for the program that sends minority students from Boston to suburban schools.

Those involved in the battle for extra funding say Brown was supportive, but that the heavy lifting was done by other, more veteran members of the Metco caucus, much of it before he arrived.

“Scott jumped on a moving vessel,’’ said one member of the caucus who helped lead the fight for more funding.

Richard Tisei, the former state Senate Republican leader who is now challenging Representative John Tierney in a North Shore congressional race, took a different view. Brown, he said, was always ready to help the tiny GOP caucus.

“I felt fortunate to have him,’’ said Tisei, who has been endorsed by Brown. “He was always willing to participate and carry our initiatives.’’

Frank Phillips can be reached at phillips@globe.com.