One to Watch: Maryland Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown

Lawyer, former state legislator and military veteran Anthony Brown talks about his road to politics, the soldiers in Iraq and his thoughts on fellow Harvard Law graduate Barack Obama.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin. And this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Later in the program, we talk with three women who are facing Mother's Day without their children. But first, from time to time we'd like to bring you conversations with rising leaders. We have one for you today. Here's Maryland's Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown. In some ways he seems like the typical guy for the job. He's a lawyer. He's was a state legislator from 1999 until January, when he was sworn in along with Governor Martin O'Malley. He and the governor are Democrats.

But Brown is also a 22-year military veteran. Just three years ago he traded in his dark suit for Army green and deployed for a year in Iraq, something that gives him unique perspective on the continuing troubles in that region. We're pleased to have him in the studio today. Lieutenant Governor Brown, thanks so much for coming in.

Lieutenant Governor ANTHONY BROWN (Democrat, Maryland): Michel, it's great to be here on your show.

MARTIN: And I hate to start off with something so somber, but among your official duties, you attend funerals of Maryland soldiers who've been killed in Iraq. Why is that important to you?

Lt. Gov. BROWN: Well, you know, certainly the goal isn't to, you know, politicize these tragic events in the lives of Maryland families, but to demonstrate the support that the governor and I have to the families who've given so much in supporting a service member who's deployed and then has paid the ultimate sacrifice, and really demonstrating to the family that we will be here and that their loved one will not be forgotten, nor will they. And we extend to them the full support of state government. So that's - our presence is a reflection of that.

MARTIN: You also attend the deployment ceremonies. In fact, I think just a couple of days ago about 140 soldiers from your state departed for Iraq. That's about 1,300, I believe, who are being deployed as part of the president's current policy, the surge, so to speak. What goes through your mind on days like that?

Lt. Gov. BROWN: Well, that was, that was an emotional day. And the governor and I went out there; Senator Mikulski was there, Senator Cardin and a few other elected officials. And as I said to the soldiers standing in formation after I told them that they look strong, that's Army strong, I said that it was an emotional day. It reminded me of when I deployed and all the things that go through your mind, you know; will my family be taken cared of? And will I have a job to come back to, and how will my kids take it. So I knew that that was going through the minds of these men and women standing in formation. It was emotional for them. It was emotional for me as well.

Just about two weeks ago when we had our first of what will be three or four deployments, we're sending 13, as you mentioned, 1,300 Guardsmen. That will be the largest combat call-up of the Maryland National Guard since World War II. So we are sending quite a few men and women over to Iraq wishing good luck and Godspeed. And I want them to know, we're going to take care of their families.

MARTIN: What was your own experience like?

Lt. Gov. BROWN: It was, I mean, I characterize it often with frustration, a little bit of disappointment. I deployed in June, July of 2004. I began my pre-deployment training at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin and Fort Bragg, North Carolina. I'm very excited and enthusiastic about the opportunity to participate in the rebuilding of a war-torn country. I deployed as the JAG officer and Army lawyer with the Civil Affairs Unit out of New York.

And our mission was to help rebuild schools and hospitals and governmental institutions. That's what Civil Affairs does. Its - we try to win the hearts and the minds in a very positive way. So I was really excited about the deployment. And soon after I arrived in September reality set in. It's difficult to march toward democracy or any form of free and representative government in the midst of so much violence and chaos, and that's what characterizes the life in Iraq. It did back in September of 2005, and it does so today. So there was a considerable amount of frustration on my part and laden with a lot of disappointment.

MARTIN: What's your view of the president's policy now?

Lt. Gov. BROWN: You know, the United States military does an excellent job at winning wars, and by winning wars I mean by defeating an opposing army. But the United States military doesn't do so good a job to rebuild a country. Some would argue that that's not the mission in the military. But that's what the military is involved in today.

So I support, really, the Democratic Party leadership to look for a reduction of the forces there, and I have mixed thoughts about a date certain for withdrawal, but I think we ought to be setting goals, some real attainable goals to bring our men and women home sooner rather than later.

MARTIN: What about the argument that this is damaging to morale because it suggests that the leadership of the United States is divided?

Lt. Gov. BROWN: And if...

MARTIN: Which it is.

Lt. Gov. BROWN: And if policy is damaging to morale, then we do need to re-look that policy because that has the factor into it. You cannot establish and try to implement policy that negatively shapes the morale of soldiers because then you're not - you're not going to be able to carry out the mission, and it will be a failure.

MARTIN: Is it hard to transition back to the pettiness of politics, if I can put it that way, after you've been overseas?

Lt. Gov. BROWN: When you deploy to a country like Iraq, where the real concern is less on whether you're going to fill a pothole, but whether an improvised explosive device is going to create a crater in your neighborhood, then pettiness, there's no room for that.

So yeah, I guess I had - I could say I had less tolerance and patience for it when I got back, but I can't say I had much patience for it before I deployed.

MARTIN: So why were you attracted to a career in politics?

Lt. Gov. BROWN: Well, when you ask a question like that, you almost assume that politics has to petty, but it...

MARTIN: No.

Lt. Gov. BROWN: I pursued...

MARTIN: Point taken.

Lt. Gov. BROWN: I pursued a career in politics because of my desire to serve, a desire that sprung from my upbringing, my parents. My father, who was a medical doctor, still today is a medical doctor, he served his entire life in some of the poorest neighborhoods in New York State, would remind me and my siblings from time to time, as well as show us every day, that you have to serve someone else before you can ever get around to serving yourself.

MARTIN: Hmm. Let's see. You are a lawyer, went to Harvard Law School. You have two lovely children. Met your wife at Harvard Law School. Who am I thinking of here? The comparison, Senator Barack Obama - inevitable. How do you feel about that?

Lt. Gov. BROWN: I'm flattered, certainly. Barack's very accomplished and inspiring. And I've heard the comparison made on more than one occasion, particularly when I was on the campaign trail. I, you know, I think perhaps the biggest similarity is both of us want to, you know, see our country do better; Barack, on the national stage, I'm in Maryland, and you know, working to expand opportunities for more and more people, and to, you know, improve life. Both of us believe that the government can be part of the solution.

MARTIN: The other thing, the thing that you have in common with Senator Obama, which may not be known to everybody, is that you're a man of color. You're African-American. Does that have any relevance to your political career?

Lt. Gov. BROWN: Yeah, it certainly does. I mean, you know, I'm - I wake up every morning and I look in the mirror, and I see an African-American man whose life has been shaped in large part by race. And my parents - my father is Jamaican, my mother is Swiss - they came to this country as new Americans for greater opportunities and a better way of life. They encountered a significant amount of racism as any interracial couple on Long Island in New York.

I can't say that they - I mean their effort wasn't to shield their kids from it. It's a reality that is experienced by all biracial children of color in the country that we live in today. However, I think that things are a lot better today than when I was born in 1961. But we still have a lot of work to do.

MARTIN: Any interest in running for Senate?

Lt. Gov. BROWN: My interest, really, and I say this with all sincerity, is to be the best lieutenant governor that I can possibly be. That's the way I've carried myself my entire life. You take one day at a time, maybe one week at a time. But I try not to focus too much on the horizon. And I'm sure that, you know, whatever is next for me over the horizon will be something good.

MARTIN: Do you still feel that there is a balancing act for an African-American public official, particularly somebody who's trying to run statewide and who is trying to represent a diverse area that perhaps a white politician doesn't have to walk?

Lt. Gov. BROWN: You know, everyone's experience is unique. In our campaign, again, I campaign actively in every community that we ran, and we ran in all 24 counties in Maryland. There were some communities were I really played up my military experience because that resonated. There were others where I played up the fact that my parents are new Americans. So you know, it's about striking a balance and trying to connect to people.

MARTIN: And there's lots of aspects of your identity there, important to you, is kind of what I hear you saying. Speaking of which, if you don't mind my asking about this, but that - because, you know, I hate to reduce people to labels. None of us loves that, but you're wife is Latina and you have a very multi-cultural family. I wonder, in this kind of new American century, you know, that we're living in, what do you think that says?

Lt. Gov. BROWN: Yeah. I don't know what it says, but I know that, you know, when I laid my eyes on my wife I knew that, you know, she was the one. So I - I don't know.

MARTIN: Are you blushing?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Lt. Gov. BROWN: You know, it's an interesting household. I think my kids are going to grow up and they're going to look back one day and all this talk about race and black and white and they're going to say, well, what about all these others hues in between. So we try to promote in our family, you know, a sense of, kind of, you know, right - of justice and, you know, social justice and equality and fairness and treating people with dignity, regardless of race and creed and background. And I think our children, when they sit around the table, they don't see a clear white and black, physically or literally. So I think that'll end up being a good thing as they grow up in their lives.

MARTIN: Last question. Bill Clinton had the saxophone. Condoleezza Rice, the classical piano. What does Anthony Brown do for fun?

Lt. Gov. BROWN: I barely can keep a beat. But I spend a lot of time with my children, I really do. I'm actively engaged in their activities: my son's first season of baseball; my daughter - while I don't play - she plays the violin. And I think the parents encourage their kids, not by showing up solely at the recitals, but being with them on a regular basis as they're practicing and hammering out that stuff every day. So I just spend a lot of time with my kids as they're doing the things that they enjoy.

MARTIN: What are you going to do for Mother's Day?

Lt. Gov. BROWN: For Mother's Day? Whatever my wife wants to do.

MARTIN: Good answer.

Lt. Gov. BROWN: Yeah.

MARTIN: Good answer.

Lt. Gov. BROWN: Whatever she wants to do.

MARTIN: Not for nothing are you in politics, right?

Lt. Gov. BROWN: Well, some would suggest that I should have already had the answer and just lay it out there and, you know, shouldn't have to ask your wife. But no, whatever she wants to do is what we'll do.

MARTIN: Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown of Maryland, thank you so much for joining us.

Lt. Gov. BROWN: Michel, thank you for having me.

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