Way More Mr. Nice Guy
Scott Brown rode his pickup, barn coat, and genuine likability all the way to the U.S. Senate in 2010. Two years later the charm offensive is back and bigger than ever. But can Brown convince Massachusetts voters to return him to Washington just because he’s a good man?
After Brown leaves the press conference at Medal of Honor Park in Southie, I stick around to ask a few of the veterans about what draws them to Brown. “Veterans is number one,” Dennis Moschella, a retired U.S. marshal and police officer who served in Vietnam, tells me. “Number two is he’s conservative.”
Tom Kelley, who earlier introduced Brown, tells me Brown was a “straight shooter” back when he was a state legislator and they worked together on veterans’ issues. Kelley, who’s an independent, says he also admires Brown’s continuing service in the National Guard—Brown holds the rank of colonel—and his bipartisan record. “I’ve always admired people like [Maine senators] Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, people like that,” he says. “And Democrats also who vote the issue, not the party line necessarily. And I think Scott follows that trait.”
That’s true. Democrats have successfully wooed him on some major bills over the past two years. In 2010 Brown voted with Democrats on a $17.5 billion jobs bill pushed by Obama, and on the new START arms-reduction treaty with Russia. This year he joined with Democrats to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act; to defeat Republican efforts to eliminate clean-air rules governing mercury and other toxins; and to support the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the renamed federal food stamp program.
Taken collectively, these votes create the impression of a determined moderate. And depending on where you happen to sit on the political spectrum, Brown’s occasional siding with the opposition party makes him a maverick, a traitor, or a canny political operator. “Scott Brown is a conservative, not a moderate, but he does occasionally vote with the Democrats,” says Tufts political science professor Jeffrey Berry. “He picks and chooses visible votes that will convey a message of moderation to voters here in Massachusetts.”
At the same time, though, Brown has sided with Republicans on a host of very conservative bills. He voted for the unsuccessful Blunt Amendment, which would have let employers with moral objections to contraceptives ban them from their company healthcare plans. And on fiscal issues, he’s rarely strayed from Republican orthodoxy. He has voted against ending tax breaks for oil companies; against a Balanced Budget Amendment proposal that would have prohibited new tax breaks for people with incomes of more than $1 million a year; against the “Buffett Rule” requiring an effective tax rate of 30 percent on people who make more than $1 million a year; and for permanently ending the federal estate tax.
There have also been times when Brown has voted with Democrats on an issue only after winning concessions that moved the legislation to the right. Because Democrats don’t have enough senators to override potential filibusters of their legislation, they often find themselves having to cut deals with Brown and a few other Republicans, which gives those GOP senators a lot of leverage. In 2010, for example, Brown, Snowe, and Collins voted with Democrats to pass the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which tightened banking regulations in the wake of the abuses that contributed to the recession. A condition of Brown’s support for Dodd-Frank, though, was that Democrats scrap their plan to have the banks pay the nearly $20 billion cost of implementing the bill and instead charge taxpayers. “It never would have passed if it wasn’t for me,” Brown said in April on MSNBC’s Morning Joe. “I was tired of having banks and Wall Street act like casinos with our money.”