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The people’s seat, a year later | Dan Payne

An average senator

By Dan Payne
January 19, 2011

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AT THE first anniversary of Scott Brown’s shocking election to the US Senate, he’s lost his duende. He never had any in the state Senate. He had it briefly after winning Ted Kennedy’s seat, dubbing it “the people’s seat.’’ Since then, I can’t think of a single interesting thing he’s said or done.

Moderate defined . Brown is now one of a handful of moderate Republicans in the US Senate. A moderate Republican is someone who, if you’re drowning 30 feet from shore, throws you a 15-foot line. Example: Brown was against providing health benefits for 9/11 Ground Zero workers suffering debilitating illnesses. Under pressure, he relented and accepted a bill worth half as much as is needed for those once called heroes.

The people’s senator ? He opposed extending unemployment benefits that would have helped 60,000 Massachusetts people at the holidays, because he said we can’t afford it. Cost: $56 billion over 10 years. Instead, he backed the Bush tax cuts for millionaires. Cost: $800 billion over 10 years.

Kagan’s brilliance isn’t for him . When she was nominated for the Supreme Court, he introduced Harvard’s Elena Kagan to Senate colleagues as “brilliant.’’ Then he voted against her confirmation, giving a vote to his leader Mitch McConnell.

Holding gay rights hostage . On “don’t ask, don’t tell,’’ he couldn’t make up his mind for months. A long-time member of the Army National Guard, he said it needed more study, even though it’s been in effect since 1993. Then he held it hostage until he got the Bush tax cuts for the rich. Then he finally voted to repeal it.

New Hampshire’s third senator? He says he supports Massachusetts’ tough gun laws, but the NRA gave him a lifetime grade of A+ in the Legislature. After Tucson he said he was against new federal regulations of weapons or ammunition, that it’s a matter for the states. Astute columnist Mark Shields pointed out that in Arizona you need a license and background check to do fingernails in a nail salon but not to carry a Glock.

After an unstable software engineer, angry over being fined by IRS for not filing a return, flew a plane into an IRS building in Texas, Brown yawned, “No one likes paying taxes.’’ What does he think he represents, New Hampshire?

Quietly helping insurance industry . He opposed legislation to reform Wall Street; then after extracting special concessions for two giant Massachusetts insurance companies, he voted for it. Working to eliminate $19 million in financial industry fees, he was rewarded with $140,000 in campaign contributions from the industry.

83 percent Republican . Last year, Brown voted with GOP leadership 83 percent of the time. A Democratic group that looks at all senators’ votes rated him “Right Conservative.’’

Mid-term grade . He’s our answer to Sarah Palin: good-looking, unwilling to hold press conferences, and light on policy. But unlike Mama Grizzly, he’s boring. For his first year I give him a gentleman’s C. Unfortunately for him, we in Massachusetts expect our elected officials in Washington to be more than good looking — and certainly not mediocre.

Dan Payne is a Boston-area media consultant who has worked for Democratic candidates around the country. He is senior political analyst for WBUR radio.