By GARRY RAYNO, InDepthNH.org
New Hampshire prides itself on its citizen legislature, citizens coming together six months a year to do the people’s work.
That has changed over the years and while there are many common citizens doing the people’s work there are also plenty of representatives and senators looking out for their own self-interests or those of special interests.
Julie Brown of Rochester represented what our founders envisioned in creating a legislature of common citizens, a good public servant with passion, empathy, compassion and the common sense to balance competing needs.
Brown, who died last week, served 24 years in the House representing her city, its citizens and most importantly for her, the most vulnerable, the state’s children.
She used her seat on the Child and Family Law Committee to be children’s and their families’ biggest advocate, touting bills that would make their lives better like ensuring grandparents would be able to see their grandchildren if their parents are not doing their job.
Brown was a Republican, there was no question about that having served as the head of the local New Hampshire Ronald Reagan campaign, but in today’s political environment, her loyalty would be questioned because she did not believe partisan politics worked with important issues.
Over the years she garnered many awards for her work to promote children and family issues and for cancer prevention and treatment.
The state Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence gave her the Hall of Fame Award, and Child and Family Services of New Hampshire presented her with the New Hampshire Voice for Children Award in 1996.
The NH Cancer Society voted her the Outstanding Leader for the American Cancer Society in New Hampshire and in the State House she was the president of the New Hampshire Order of Women Legislators for a time.
I first met Julie when she was on the Rochester Planning Board and I was the Rochester Bureau Chief for Foster’s Daily Democrat in 1988.
Over the year I spent in Rochester we had many conversations about the city’s politics, its history and its future. She was seen as a Dick Green loyalist, during the final years of his tenure as Mayor, but she was not afraid to tell the mayor when she thought he was being unreasonable or headed in the wrong direction.
In Rochester, where she lived for 50 years, Brown served for 15 years on the planning board, including several as chair, and she was serving her 12th year on the Rochester School Board at the time of her death.
Brown also served on the Strafford County Community Action Program board and as chair and was on the Strafford County Board of Directors of Meals on Wheels.
She had a long resume of service at the local and state level, but Brown was more than that.
We continued our conversations when I went to Concord to cover the State House.
She was often disappointed with the outcomes of bills she touted as they fell victim to the cries of fiscal responsibility. Brown understood all too well it is really a question of political will and not fiscal responsibility that determined whether children and their families received the services they needed or new programs instituted to expand opportunities for the less fortunate.
Brown fought fiercely for what she believed in, but never disparaged the opposition knowing on the next issue you may need their support.
Such an outlook is rare in today’s political climate when the first instinct is to demonize someone you disagree with and say whatever comes to mind on social media, the nastier the better.
The hyper partisanship does not lend itself to lasting solutions both sides can own and defend in the next election so there is the constant swing in major policy issues with each election.
Brown may be a throwback to another time in the state’s politics, but I hope that is not true.
She was what an elected official should be. As a representative in the New Hampshire House, she was there to be the eyes and ears of her community.
Brown was in Concord to represent her community be it Rochester, a particular ward in the Lilac City, or the state. With her you knew she would make her decision on what was best for her city and its citizens and not on party affiliation, national trends or personal interest.
Brown was not a legislative blazing star putting her time in before running for higher office. She was there to do her job as a public servant, look at the facts and make an informed decision.
Isn’t that what we should expect from all the people we vote for?
It is, but in too many instances, outside interests, money and partisanship drive the bus, even in Concord.
Today we need a school bus full of Julie Browns to right the ship-of-state, at the state and national level.
Because Julie Brown touched thousands of lives in her 84 years in a positive way.
She will be missed but never forgotten for the work she did for children, families and individuals in Rochester, Strafford County and New Hampshire, and for who she was.
Garry Rayno may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Distant Dome by veteran journalist Garry Rayno explores a broader perspective on the State House and state happenings for InDepthNH.org. Over his three-decade career, Rayno covered the NH State House for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Foster’s Daily Democrat. During his career, his coverage spanned the news spectrum, from local planning, school and select boards, to national issues such as electric industry deregulation and Presidential primaries. Rayno lives with his wife Carolyn in New London. InDepthNH.org is New Hampshire’s only nonprofit, online news outlet dedicated to holding government accountable and giving voice to marginalized people, places and ideas.