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Twelve Stories: How Democracy Works Now | Participants



Senator Sam Brownback

It was nothing to brag about, in the summer of 2001, that we zeroed in on Sam Brownback as the key to the whole story we hoped to be able to figure out and follow -- lots of smart people said he would be. It was far more amazing that he agreed to go along with us. Yet Senator Brownback did, he was the first. So he‘s our original idea of a senator, and his office our founding idea of a proper Senate operation.

Senate offices, it turns out, are wildly different one from another. Some are slightly disorganized, and in extreme cases, so loose they feel adrift. Others are run like tight, hierarchical ships -- a staffer might never actually talk to “the boss" to the next superior in the chain. A few are run so tightly that everybody there just seems, well, miserable and paranoid. None are transparent.

We chronicled the the action in a lot of offices on both sides of the Hill, eventually. But very rarely did we glimpse, in 6 years of filming almost daily for long stretches at a time, an office as real, and as warm, as Sam Brownback‘s. For more than a year while he was Ted Kennedy‘s partner leading the Immigration Sub-committee, the Senior Senator from Kansas allowed us into his operation and his staff followed his lead with a welcome as well. That‘s a substantial tribute to Senator Brownback, because ultimately “the boss" sets the tone.

Then there was our own relationship with the man himself. He was a young, conservative Republican on the move -- a man with a broad agenda who had already earned a national reputation for his efforts against lewd rock music and cloning. No doubt he got plenty of warnings from colleagues and staff about the recklessness of allowing us to hang around. And we were hardly in on everything, but his openness in the slices we did experience was extraordinary.

We ended up with a better, more complex idea of Sam Brownback as a person than we managed to have for any other senator. And though we had no real expectations when we met him, he still managed to surprise us. We saw Senator Brownback take a lot of tough stands, and struggle with some very difficult choices. Such a thoughtful and principled person is close to the opposite of many Americans‘ idea of a powerful politician. As Frank Sharry says with wonder in Story #2, “He‘s a Senator and he want to do the right thing! AND HE‘S A SENATOR!!“

So, of all the amazing luck we had throughout this project, it‘s fair to say that some of the best luck came very early, when we met Sam Brownback and he agreed to help us with our idea. We owe him a huge debt. And we wish him the very best, and great success.

Now here are some solid bio facts:

Born and raised on a family farm in Parker, Kansas, Senator Brownback served as a White House Fellow under George H.W. Bush and at the time was the youngest Secretary of Agriculture in Kansas history.  He was elected to the House of Representatives with the Republican Revolution in 1994, then two years later he was elected to the U.S. Senate seat held by Bob Dole. He‘s an expert in Agriculture and Cloning, but also in Central Asia and Foreign Relations. He is a staunch advocate for the people of Kansas, but fights just as fiercely for Human Rights around the world.

Senator Brownback is currently running for Governor of Kansas. He and his wife, Mary, have five children and live in Topeka.

Senator Sam Brownback appears in Stories 1 The Game Is On, 2 Mountains and Clouds, 3 You Never Know, 4 Sam in the Snow, and 11 The Senate Speaks
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