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Since Scott Brown was elected to the U.S. Senate last week, he's been portrayed as a hero for the Republican party and political underdogs everywhere.
In a single bound, Brown took a leap from a minority senator to the 41st Senate vote against President Obama's health care overhaul. Brown's "hero" label is not only something that he appears to embrace, but may also shed light on who he is as a politician.
It's well-known by now that Scott Brown is a competitive tri-athlete. The man exercises two hours a day, according to his campaign.
"You know, I'm a little younger than Scott, but he's more physically fit than I am," said Jim Vallee, a National Guard buddy of Brown's who recently competed with him in an Army fitness test. "He, like, lapped me, and he, like, slaps me, he gave me a love tap. 'Come on soldier, step it up.' That's what he said."
To understand why he needs to be so physically fit, you might look to Brown's childhood, which he describes as rough. His parents were divorced several times, and his mom was on welfare. Brown even pointed to his "issues as a kid."
"He wasn't having problems with his mother or his sister or anything," recalled John Encarnacao, who has known Brown since he was little, "but his step-fathers presented some challenges to him, is what I'll say."
According to statements by Brown, his step-fathers were violent. And Brown said that during these troubled times, he had to intervene to protect his mother. Perhaps this is where his identity as a protector took shape. And what better place to act as a protector as a 19-year-old than in the National Guard.
The choice may also have grown out of his parents' conservative influence.
His father, Bruce Brown, said he and his son both support a strong army.
"Our world is in danger," Brown said. "You're going to take some of those individuals from the Far East, just like they did a few days ago, and they're going to give their lives to blow an airplane up. There are so many things right now that need action, and I think that he's ready to accept that."
"He really liked and felt very comfortable standing up for the little guy ... Sometimes to the consternation of the command.”
--Rep. James Vallee, National Guard
According to friends, Brown is trying to remain in the National Guard while he's a senator. Being a soldier is a big part of Brown's identity, and his friend Jim Vallee said Brown was devastated when he was temporarily terminated from the guard because he didn't finish necessary classes for a promotion.
"Here's a guy that had been this for 25 years or whatever, you know," Vallee said. "I might have said, 'enough's enough.' It gets old. You know, you're away from your family, you're traveling overseas. The tempo is high. The pay's not huge. And here's a guy that wanted to stay in."
Like all storybook heroes, Brown is definitely a dude, but he also has a soft side, according to his friend Vallee. Brown is an attorney inside the National Guard. Because he's a Republican, you might expect him to be a law-and-order guy and represent the prosecution. But instead, Brown represents guard members who face getting kicked out.
"You know, he really liked and felt very comfortable standing up for the little guy," Vallee said. "And worked hard at it. Sometimes to the consternation of the command."
Brown has also been a sensitive advocate for soldiers returning to Massachusetts with post traumatic stress disorder.
The "hero image" may have a downside politically.
Mary-Ann Greanier has been following Brown's career for nearly 20 years and said Brown has used fear-mongering to win elections. "His vociferous opposition to gay rights puts him in the bigot category for me," she said. "He's definitely in the bigot column."
He also famously called it "unusual" when a lesbian lawmaker raised a baby with her domestic partner. Brown went on to vote for an amendment banning gay marriage.
"His vociferous opposition to gay rights puts him in the bigot category for me."
--Mary-Ann Greanier, Democratic Party activist
When constituents complained to Brown about these positions, some say he retaliated and showed an angry streak. Joe Ferreira wrote a letter to Brown and other lawmakers who voted for the gay-marriage ban.
"The letter was not obscene, not profane, but it was pretty blunt and direct," Ferreira said. "I used words like 'miserable' and 'vacuous' about their votes. So I shared the letter with the kids."
Ferreira is a high-school teacher in Brown's hometown of Wrentham. When Brown found out Ferreira had read the letter to students, he apparently called the school and asked for equal time to explain his position on gay marriage. When Brown showed up to speak to the students, his agenda had changed.
He had discovered that the students had attacked him and his daughter on Facebook. Ferreira said that Brown spent 20 minutes chastising the students.
"I couldn't believe that he would choose to do this, that he would choose to, in the role of a public official, react by quoting profanity and obscenity from a Facebook page that really had no meaning and nothing to do with either the legislative process or gay marriage," Ferreira said.
Ferreira also said Brown falsely accused him of holding his students' grades hostage if they didn't convince their parents to vote against Brown.
"Hero" would be the last word Ferreira would use to describe Brown. Instead, he says the new senator is an attention-hungry bully.
Brown has said that he regrets the way he handled the situation at the school. We tried to talk to Brown about this and his plans as a senator, but he wasn't available.
Brown's friend Vallee — who also serves in the State House as a Democrat-- said Brown is an "unscripted" politician, and that's what makes him refreshing. He also says Brown will be a maverick, who will vote like a fiscal conservative one day, and fight to restore education funding the next.
But social issues may not be where Brown sets out to make his mark. As a soldier and someone who wants to protect people from danger, Brown has asked to serve on committees dealing with homeland security and armed services.
This program aired on January 25, 2010.
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