Scott Brown is the Most _________* Man In America

*Fill in the blank. He’ll be whoever you want him to be.

By Paul Kix | Boston Magazine |

Such contradictions are not new for Brown. He voted against increasing the number of charter schools in Massachusetts, and then against a moratorium on the building of new charter schools. His most famous flip-flop was, of course, healthcare: He would have voted for Massachusetts’ universal coverage in 2006 if he hadn’t been out for a medical procedure the day of the vote, according to Senate journals. (He opposes the nationwide plan today because he says it will hurt seniors and raise too many taxes.) Yet Brown’s most revealing change involved Metco, the state plan that buses poor urban students to rich suburban school districts. After initially voting against an increase in Metco funding while a state rep, Brown, as a state senator, not only voted for funding increases but also went on to cochair Metco’s legislative caucus.

His sudden advocacy came after a visit to Wayland High School in 2005, Metco officials believe. Dave Schmirer, a social studies teacher there, remembers Brown’s visit well. Schmirer had planned a series of debates for his and another civics class on the issue of gay marriage. He needed a speaker who opposed it and invited Brown. During the lecture, Brown drew the parallel that having him speak against gay marriage was like having a black student speak for Metco. “Don’t you agree?” he said, settling his gaze on one such student. Brown had no idea if that student was in Metco. (It turns out he was.) But the comment unsettled Schmirer. “It wasn’t racist,” he says. It just lacked a certain sensibility, a sensitivity, even.

In the next civics class, things got worse. Brown wondered aloud if Metco students had been brought to Wayland High as a potential boon to the athletics program. Now Schmirer wasn’t the only one who felt unsettled. Students, too, found the comments inappropriate, Schmirer says. They asked Schmirer to bring Brown back to explain himself. Brown returned about a week later.

He didn’t really know why he needed to return, despite Schmirer having spoken with the senator’s staff about this visit. So, even if Brown’s staff hadn’t relayed Schmirer’s message that the students wanted an explanation, Brown himself had failed to see the impact his comments had had on others. He’d walked out of Wayland High one week earlier without regret. “It was like [the incident] hadn’t registered,” Schmirer says.

This time, both classes met in a large conference room. As students started in with heated questions, Brown “basically apologized,” Schmirer says. Brown told the students he didn’t realize he had said something offensive. He was sorry for that. He seemed to mean it, and the kids seemed placated by the end of the class. When he left the school that day, Schmirer thought that was the last he’d see of him. “But then lo and behold….”

One year later, Brown voted for an increase in Metco funding. And the year after that, he decided to cochair its legislative caucus. State Representative Jay Kaufman of Lexington, the other Metco chair, says Brown was nothing if not an adamant advocate for the program. Kaufman never questioned Brown’s rationale; he just found it refreshing to see a Republican serving. Schmirer suspects “political expedience.” Then again, the Wayland High situation never made the papers, so there was no imperative for Brown to act. Through a spokesperson, Brown says he flip-flopped — voting against Metco in the House, and then for it in the Senate — because his Senate district was larger than the House one, and included many Metco schools. But political maneuvering wasn’t the only reason for his support. Brown also says he championed the program because he saw in today’s disadvantaged kids an ambition that mirrored his own. He went on to help push the state’s funding to levels never seen.