A record of military service, once a common virtue in our elected representatives and leaders, has dwindled in recent years. Task & Purpose has written on this before. By one metric, the number of veterans in U.S. Congress, went from upward of 70% in 1965 to less than 20% today.
But political leadership starts long before the halls of the U.S. Capitol; it starts in local communities. In that spirit, one senior hill staffer and long-time veterans advocate is running for a position in the Virginia House of Delegates.
Brown is a senior staffer on the Hill, serving as the Democratic staff director for the Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs. The subcommittee, under the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, has legislative, oversight, and investigative jurisdiction over compensation surrounding all of America’s wars.
Now, however, with a June 9 primary looming, Brown is interested in a new job — delegate for the 44th District of the Virginia House of Representatives. Task & Purpose spoke to Brown to discuss his motivations for seeking elected office, and what he thinks he brings to his community in Northern Virginia.
“After getting out of the service and going to school, Northern Virginia was the first place that we decided to call home,” Brown said.
From his home in Northern Virginia, he commuted to his job at Capitol Hill. Brown was named the 2014 Legislative Staffer of the Year by the National Veterans Center. He also founded Hillvets, an organization that supports veterans working in staff roles on Capitol Hill, an experience he credits with teaching him how to work with people of different political ideologies.
“I’ve seen Hillvets bridge the gap between parties,” Brown said. “What I’ve learned is that, as people, we have a lot more in common regardless as ideology than we like to think in the political arena. If you focus on the similarities you have with people, you wind up getting a lot more done.”
At 32, Brown knows a bit about getting things done. He enlisted in the Navy at 17 years old and did three deployments as an aviation electronics technician, including two tours in Iraq. When he got home, he went to school at the University of Utah, earning two bachelor’s degrees in three years, and became actively involved in his local Veterans of Foreign Wars post.
“I learned my politics in a VFW hall,” Brown said.
Brown became youngest All-American District Commander and Department Chief of Staff in the history of the VFW.After graduation, Brown continued to work with the VFW in Washington, and helped secure the passage of the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill, a landmark piece of legislation that enables service members, veterans, and spouses or children to earn an education.
According to Brown, Virginia now has roughly 60,000 veterans using those G.I. Bill benefits he fought to secure.
Brown described his work as a veterans advocate as an experience that equipped him well for local politics. He said that the issues affecting the veterans community — education, health care, lessening the burden of bureaucracy — are things we all need. As a member of the Virginia House of Delegates, he intends to apply those same lessons to the people of Virginia's 44th District.
“I’ve grown frustrated with the ideological divisiveness I’ve seen at the national level,” Brown said. “I consider myself to be a pragmatic person, and we need more pragmatic people running for office.”