Sen. Sam Brownback's Politics of Faith

Sen. Sam Brownback i i

hide captionSam Brownback was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1996 to fill a seat left vacant by Majority Leader Bob Dole.

Elizabeth Tannen, NPR
Sen. Sam Brownback

Sam Brownback was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1996 to fill a seat left vacant by Majority Leader Bob Dole.

Elizabeth Tannen, NPR

When he was in college at Kansas State, Sam Brownback was asked at job interview about his life's ambition. "To be president of the United States," the student told his future boss at the university radio station.

These days the U.S. senator is being talked about as a potential presidential contender two years from now.

When asked if he still wants to run for the White House, the Kansas Republican replies: "I am interested and I have been encouraged." But, he says, "I think the environment is not yet set. I think these things are about the right person, the right message, the right moment all coming together. I think that's pretty hard to see for 2008 right now."

Brownback is an interesting political creature. Even for an age of rampant public piety, he is extremely religious. And his faith takes him to some surprising positions. But for all that, he says, his politics are familiar.

Here's how he describes his political philosophy: "I'm a Ronald Reagan conservative, I'm an economic conservative, I'm strong military. But I also voice and speak and work hard on the social issues. I am pro-life. I believe in the sanctity of marriage. I think the real needs in the country are for cultural renewal."

Brownback, An Outspoken Social Conservative

Republican Sam Brownback of Kansas has been one of the Senate's most outspoken social conservatives since he was first elected in 1996. Religion infuses his politics. Brownback, an evangelical Protestant-turned-Roman Catholic, attends two church services on Sundays and a weekly Bible study group.

About Sen. Brownback

Born: Sept. 12, 1956, in Garnett, Kan.

 

Grew Up: On his family's farm near Parker, Kan.

 

Education: Kansas State University, 1979; law degree from University of Kansas, 1982

 

Public Service: Kansas State agriculture secretary, 1986-1993; White House fellow (Office of the U.S. Trade Representative), 1990-92; elected to U.S. House, 1994; elected to U.S. Senate, 1996 (to fill seat left vacant by Sen. Bob Dole (R-KS); re-elected to Senate in 1998, 2004

 

Committees: Appropriations, Judiciary, Joint Economic Committee; chairman of the United States Helsinki Commission (Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe)

 

Family: Married, with five children

His conservatism is apparent in much of the legislation he has sponsored, including a bill requiring that women seeking abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy be informed by their doctors that their fetuses can feel pain.

He's sponsored a bill to ban human cloning and opposed stem cell research, which he likens to slavery.

Brownback has also sought to increase indecency fines for broadcasters. In his capacity as chairman of the Commerce subcommittee on Science, he has held hearings on pornography addiction.

Religion has also played a role in Brownback's foreign policy positions. He visited refugee camps in Sudan in 2004 and returned to write a resolution labeling the situation in Darfur as genocide, and said the United States and other nations should become involved. He has reached across the aisle on occasion. After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, he worked with Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) on legislation that imposed stricter entry standards at the nation's borders. Brownback worked with Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) to help win placement of the African American Museum on the National Mall in Washington.

And Brownback has not been afraid to oppose President Bush on some issues. Last year, the Kansan was one of the first conservatives to express doubts about Harriet Miers, who ultimately withdrew as Mr. Bush's Supreme Court nominee. He has also expressed unhappiness with the president's warrantless eavesdropping program.

The 49-year-old Brownback showed an early proficiency for politics, becoming student body president at Kansas State University. He was also a national officer of Future Farmers of America and served as Kansas' secretary of agriculture for six years.

He won election to the House in 1994, part of the powerful freshman Republican class that tried to remake that chamber. Brownback was part of the so-called New Federalists, who among other aims sought to abolish three Cabinet agencies. He supported campaign finance reform, and spoke at Ross Perot's United We Stand Convention in 1995. Brownback served just one term in the House, running for the Senate in 1996 after Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole announced he would resign his seat to run for president. Brownback won the primary by defeating former Lt. Gov. Sheila Frahm, who had been appointed to temporarily fill the seat. He defeated Democrat Jill Docking in the general election.

He easily won a full term in 1998 and re-election in 2004.

Now, Brownback is contemplating a run for president himself, believing his appeal to the social conservatives who comprise the core of the Republican Party can win him the GOP nomination. He has already made the obligatory campaign appearances in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Televangelist Pat Robertson had a similar long-shot strategy in 1988. Brownback clearly faces an uphill battle. Polls find him little known outside his home state, and he may not be the only social conservative candidate vying for the Republican presidential nomination. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee and Sen. George Allen of Virginia are also said to be contemplating running.

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