Sen. Sam Brownback (R)
Elected: 1996, term expires 2010, 3rd full term.
Born: Sept. 12, 1956, Garnett .
Education: KS St. U., B.S. 1978, U. of KS, J.D. 1982.
Family: Married (Mary); 5 children.
Elected office: U.S. House of Reps., 1994–96.
Professional Career: Radio broadcaster, KKSU, 1978–79; Practicing atty., 1982–86, 1993; Prof., KS St. U. Law Schl., 1982–86; Ogden & Leonardville City Atty., 1983–86; KS secy. of agriculture, 1986–93; White House fellow, Office of USTR, 1990–91.
Sam Brownback grew up on a farm in Anderson County, some 50 miles south of Kansas City; he has family roots in Osawatomie, a center of evangelical abolitionism in Kansas in the 1850s. He was state president of Future Farmers of America while in high school and student body president at Kansas State University. As a young man, he had a daring side: He and a friend once herded cattle on motorcycles, and he wore his hair in a bushy style known in the 1970s as an “Afro.” He worked briefly as a farm broadcaster before graduating from law school at the University of Kansas. He practiced law for four years in Manhattan, Kan., and then was appointed secretary of the state Board of Agriculture in 1986, serving until it was abolished in 1993. Brownback was a White House Fellow, working from 1990 to ’91 for Special Trade Representative Carla Hills. In March 1994, when 2nd District Rep. Jim Slattery, a Democrat, ran for governor, Brownback announced his candidacy for the seat, condemning “a welfare system that discourages the work ethic and encourages the disintegration of families, and a government that can’t say no to spending or yes to reform.” He won the primary 48%-35% over Bob Bennie, who campaigned as a strong opponent of abortion rights. In the general election, Brownback defeated John Carlin, who was governor from 1978 to ’86, by carrying every county in a 66%-34% win.
|Sam Brownback (R)||780,863||(69%)||($2,476,585)|
|Lee Jones (D)||310,337||(27%)||($102,931)|
|Sam Brownback (R)||286,839||(87%)|
|Arch Naramore (R)||42,880||(13%)|
Prior Winning Percentages: 1998 (65%), 1996 (54%), 1994 House (66%)
Brownback was among the “revolutionary” Republican freshmen in 1995 who tried to shake up Congress. He headed a group called the “New Federalists,” which sought to abolish three Cabinet departments, and he denounced “influence peddling” in Washington. As the immigration issue heated up, he played a key role in separating the debate over illegal immigration from discussion of legal immigration, which led to passage of a tough measure against illegal immigrants but no major reductions in the number of legal immigrants. In 1995, he had a melanoma removed, and this brush with a fatal disease led him toward a deeper faith. “I did a lot of internal examination. My conclusion was that if this were to be terminal, at that point in time I would not be satisfied with how I had lived life,” he told The Weekly Standard magazine. An evangelical Christian, Brownback later converted to Catholicism, with Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania as his sponsor; on Sundays in Topeka he attends both Catholic mass and a service at the Topeka Bible Church. Brownback believes that the nation has “re-engaged with its faith” in a spiritual revival. He chairs weekly meetings of the Values Action Team on Capitol Hill. At a prayer breakfast, he apologized to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York for having despised her and her husband years earlier when President Clinton was in office. He also described washing the feet of a staffer at a farewell party to demonstrate respect and humility.
In May 1996, Republican Bob Dole of Kansas, in the midst of his presidential campaign, made the surprise announcement that he would resign from the Senate that June. Two days later, Brownback said he would seek the seat. But Republican Gov. Bill Graves chose a fellow moderate, Lt. Gov. Sheila Frahm, to fill the vacancy until the election, setting up a primary contest between Frahm and conservative Brownback. There were strong differences between the two: She favored abortion rights, and he opposed abortion. Brownback accused her of voting as a state legislator to raise taxes by $500 million; she criticized his “slash-and-burn” approach to federal spending. Brownback won the August primary, 55%-42%. In the fall race for the remaining two years of Dole’s term, Brownback faced Democrat Jill Docking, a Wichita stockbroker and the wife of a former lieutenant governor whose father and grandfather both served as governor. Docking promised “Kansas common sense” and likened herself to Nancy Landon Kassebaum, a prominent moderate Republican who represented Kansas in the Senate for nearly 20 years. Brownback campaigned on the three R’s: “Reduce, reform, and return. Reduce the size and scope of the federal government. Reform the Congress. Return to the basic values that built the country: Work and family and the recognition of a higher moral authority.” He promised to serve only two terms. Both candidates spent liberally, and some fall polls showed the race to be close. But Brownback won by a convincing 54%-43%.
Brownback has had a mostly conservative voting record in the Senate and has taken on many issues because of his strong religious views. “I think every life is sacred and beautiful, whether it’s the unborn or whether it’s Ted Kennedy,” he has said. “I really try to reach out and work with anybody and everybody I can.” After September 11, Brownback and Kennedy, the liberal Massachusetts senator, co-sponsored a bill to strengthen the nation’s borders. It provided for an automatic entry and exit system, the development of biometric identifiers and tracking of foreign students, and better coordination between immigration and anti-terrorism agencies. The bill became law in 2002. Brownback teamed up with Paul Wellstone, the late liberal senator from Minnesota, to gain passage of the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000. He led the fight for the Sudan Peace Act of 2002 and has worked to end slavery and the civil war there. With Kennedy, he co-sponsored the North Korea Refugee Act, saying in 2002, “If hell is the absence of God, I think you can see North Korea is the closest place to that on Earth.” Using his seat on the Appropriations Committee, Brownback in 2006 called for $100 million to promote democracy in Iran and has pushed for action to combat AIDS and malaria in Africa.
Brownback has taken the initiative on many domestic issues. In 2005, after the Janet Jackson “wardrobe malfunction” at the Super Bowl, the Senate passed his bill raising the maximum fine on broadcasters for indecency from $32,500 to $325,000. With Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., he worked to authorize the African-American museum on the National Mall, and with Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., he sponsored a resolution apologizing to American Indians for past government misdeeds. When the Senate approved the apology in 2008, Brownback said his hope was that it “helps heal the wounds that have divided America for too long.” He has sponsored bills to require doctors to tell women seeking abortions that fetuses can feel pain and to bar doctors from prescribing controlled drugs for use in assisted suicides. On the Judiciary Committee, he supported most of President Bush’s judicial appointees. In 2006, however, he held up the approval of District Court nominee Janet Neff of Michigan because she had attended a lesbian commitment ceremony; he was one of four senators to vote against her confirmation in 2007. To the dismay of many conservatives, Brownback was a leading co-sponsor of the immigration bill that passed in the Senate in 2006 and established a guest-worker program.
In 2003 and 2004, Brownback used his chairmanship of the Commerce Committee’s Science Subcommittee to hold hearings on cloning and genetic testing. He is a staunch foe of federal funding for embryonic-stem-cell research, which uses excess embryos from in vitro fertilization procedures. Brownback says that the research destroys human life, and he compares it to Nazi experimentation on Jews. “While researchers in the private sector are free to destroy young human lives through embryonic-stem-cell research, the government should not be in the business of funding this ethically troubling research with taxpayer dollars,” he says.
Brownback supported the Bush administration on the Iraq war until he made a trip there in early 2007. “I do not believe that sending more troops to Iraq is the answer,” he said. “Iraq requires a political rather than a military solution.” After meeting with Iraqi officials and U.S. military leaders, he called for Iraq to be divided into three relatively autonomous zones. The success of the military surge increased his frustration with the political stalemate in Iraq, and later in 2007 he continued to oppose additional troops.
Brownback was elected to a full six-year term in 1998 on a 65%-32% vote after well-known Democrats declined to run. In 2004, Democrats again had a hard time finding a candidate to run against him. Former House member and Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman bowed out in September 2003, and Gov. Kathleen Sebelius also declined. The winner of the August 2004 primary withdrew from the race, and Brownback was re-elected 69%-27%, carrying 104 of Kansas’s 105 counties.
After that election, conservatives encouraged Brownback to run for president. In June 2006, he said he was giving it serious consideration. “I could be the right person with the right message at the right moment. And I could be completely wrong, and I’ll still be happy about it,” he told The Washington Post. He made several trips to Iowa, where, he hoped, his background in agriculture and his strong religious convictions would resonate with Republican caucus-goers. After George Allen lost his Senate race in Virginia and former Sen. Bill Frist of Tennessee announced he would not run, Brownback seemed to be one of the few potential candidates whose stand on issues was in line with the cultural conservatives who have dominated the Republican selection process since 1980.
In January 2007, Brownback joined the race and offered himself as “a full-scale, Ronald Reagan conservative.… My positions are at the heart of where the Republican Party is.” Two days later, he took part in the annual protest march at the Supreme Court on the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion. His campaign blueprint was: “Move to Iowa. Consolidate the base. And tell your story.” His platform included Social Security privatization and supported the development of alternative-fuel vehicles. But, lagging in the polls and in fundraising, he was unable to break out of the pack of Republican candidates. Brownback’s moment of truth came at the Iowa straw poll in August 2007, when he finished third with 15% behind former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. National Review editor Rich Lowry wrote that Brownback’s candidacy had reached the point of “extreme pointlessness.” Brownback tried to refocus his campaign on bipartisanship and a broader political constituency. “I think it will really resonate with Iowa voters who are tired of the political bickering,” he said. But Brownback withdrew on October 19, saying, “My yellow brick road just came short of the White House this time.” Three weeks later, he endorsed Sen. John McCain of Arizona, and he worked to sell McCain to religious voters and other conservatives. He told The Wichita Eagle, “The most successful thing I did was get out of the race. That’s what I got the most publicity for.”
Brownback said that he will keep his pledge to serve only two full terms. In September 2008, he said he was “definitely considering the idea” of running for governor in 2010.