The Importance of Independence

Former U.S. Senator Scott Brown, A81, spoke at Tufts about the power of political involvement
Scott Brown at Tufts
“I never in my wildest dreams ever thought I would be a U.S. senator and have the honor of representing this great country for three years,” said Scott Brown. Photo: Kelvin Ma
March 13, 2015

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If you see something wrong and know you can fix it, then take a stand and do it, Scott P. Brown, A81, the former Republican senator from Massachusetts, told a group gathered in Alumnae Lounge on Tufts’ Medford/Somerville campus earlier this week.

Remaining true to yourself, combating partisanship by always seeking common ground and working for what you believe is right are the keys to getting things done, not just in Washington, D.C., but in all of life’s arenas, said Brown, who came to Tufts on March 11 as part of the Tisch College Distinguished Speaker Series.

“Politics is a blood sport; you play for keeps, but I don’t look at my colleagues as rivals,” said Brown. “I look at them as fellow senators from different parts of the country who have different beliefs and strengths. We may not agree on anything, but at the end of the day, I want to be able to go out with them and have a pizza and a beer and talk about the kids and the family.”

Washington is not like that these days, he said. “They don’t like each other. They don’t talk to each other, and they just want to rip each other’s throats out.”

Brown reviewed his career and political views in a conversation with Alan Solomont, A70, A08P, the Pierre and Pamela Omidyar Dean of the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service. “We bring these leaders to campus to engage the entire Tufts community and to inspire thoughtful conversation about pressing issues of the day,” Solomont said.

Previous speakers have included U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius and political columnist Matt Bai, A90.

Brown said he is proud of his bipartisan record during his three years in the U.S. Senate, where he voted with Republicans 54 percent of the time. This kind of independent judgment is important to creating change, he said.

“You read the bills and make certain you understand them and see how they affect our debt, our deficit, our country,” Brown said. “And regardless of who is supporting a bill—Democrat or Republican—if it makes sense, do it.” It is how he spearheaded and helped pass legislation in the Senate, he said, including banning insider trading for members of Congress and their aides and the Crowdfund Act, among others.

Brown said his political career was in many ways inspired by his time at Tufts. While he was recruited to Tufts for his basketball skills, he had a varied and rich life as a student. In addition to playing for the Jumbos, he was a member of the student senate and the jazz choir and had a lead role in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum at Balch Arena Theater.

“Tufts was the doorway into new cultures and experiences,” he said. “I came to understand and appreciate differences and the kinds of challenges all people face. This played a critical role in the man I am, the kind of person I am and the public servant I have been.

If You Don’t Like It, Fix It

Brown admitted he didn’t exactly choose a public service career. After Tufts, he graduated from Boston College Law School in 1985, fully intending to practice law. But then he went to a board of selectmen’s meeting in Wrentham, Massachusetts, to join other town residents in pushing for a tax override to better fund the schools. After the meeting, he approached a selectman to complain that he felt the residents had been treated badly by the board.

“The selectman said to me, ‘If you don’t like it, why don’t you run?’ So I did. I ran, and I won, and that was it,” Brown said.

Brown went on to serve as a Massachusetts state representative from 1999 to 2004 and then moved to the state senate, where he served from 2004 to 2010. He became a U.S. senator after he won a special election for the seat vacated by Edward M. Kennedy and served from 2010 to 2013.

He lost his seat to Elizabeth Warren in the most expensive campaign in Massachusetts history; it cost $82 million, Solomont said. In 2014, Brown tried something nearly unprecedented, according to Solomont, when he entered the U.S. Senate race in New Hampshire, where he lost to incumbent Jeanne Shaheen in a close election.

Solomont asked if Brown would like to see the U.S. handle foreign affairs differently. Yes, he answered, “with leadership, especially with respect to the president,” he said. “I think it started in Syria. They used chemical weapons, and you draw a red line and say, Cross that line and watch out. Well, they crossed the line, and he did nothing. As a result, our allies don’t trust us . . .  [and] our foes don’t fear or respect us.”

Referring to numerous global hot spots, Brown said that to him, “it feels like the world is on fire. For example, you have Iran that wants to wipe Israel off the face of the earth. The president is negotiating a deal [to stop development of nuclear capabilities in Iran], but no one knows what it is about. So the senators who wrote a letter to Iran that some are calling treason? No. It’s their check and balance—they are right to be involved in the process. The president cannot continue to use his executive authority to do what he is doing.”

What’s next for Brown? He is now a contracted contributor for Fox News, where he writes editorials, provides commentary and has served as a guest host of The O’Reilly Factor, Fox and Friends and Outnumbered. He is also on the board of Kadant Inc., an international paper machinery supply company, and an advisor to CoachUp, an athletic coaching firm.

“I never in my wildest dreams ever thought I would be a U.S. senator and have the honor of representing this great country for three years,” Brown said. “If I never serve again another day in my life, I will remember that opportunity. Today I’m having a lot of fun speaking and traveling all over the world. So it’s so true about doors closing and others opening.”

Brown’s parting thoughts for Tufts students? “Don’t let people tell you who you are and what you are going to do,” he said. “Go make a difference.”

The next event in the Tisch College Distinguished Speaker Series is a discussion and book signing featuring former congressmen Martin Frost (D-Texas) and Tom Davis (R-Va.), authors of The Partisan Divide: Congress in Crisis. It will be held on Wednesday, April 22, at 3 p.m. in the Coolidge Room, Ballou Hall.

Gail Bambrick can be reached at gail.bambrick@tufts.edu.