I took a basket of dirty clothes to the basement this morning and suddenly was reminded that in 1979, I sought a favor from Ohio's now-US Senator-Elect, Sherrod Brown. Brown granted me the favor. Is that scandalous? You be the judge.
First, a bit of background. For more than two years, from late 1976 to late 1978, I relentlessly nagged the then-Executive Secretary of the Ohio House of Representatives, Joe Sommer, to hire me. I'd always wanted to work at the State House. It had been a goal of mine from childhood.
Through the years, the primary tool I've used to achieve my goals has been nagging. It's how I convinced my wife to marry me and later, in spite of my poor undergraduate record, it's the way I got the admissions people at Trinity Lutheran Seminary to let me study to become a pastor. After I'd made a complete pest of myself, Sommer approached the Speaker of the House, Vern Riffe about bringing me on as supervisor of the college pages. I began the job in January, 1979.
The office from which I did my work also happened to be the place where House members and staff could pick up copies of most of the state's major newspapers. Among our regular clientele was Sherrod Brown, an affable fellow about my age who then represented House District #61, near Mansfield. I knew about Brown before I arrived at the State House, of course, and honestly, I was in awe of him. Fresh out of college, he'd hit the bricks in his first campaign for public office...and won. The fact that he'd accomplished this at so young an age amazed me!
I could have been envious, resentful of his status, I suppose. But Brown's demeanor made that impossible. Unlike many people who gain public office or notoriety at a young age, Brown had no airs. He was a down-to-earth guy who seemed to take his work seriously, but not himself. I always enjoyed our rapid daily chats.
It was because of his friendly accessibility that I approached Brown for a political favor, the physical evidence for which sets before me now. I'd long forgotten it until I noticed it today, visible with a group of sacked items setting near our washing machine, placed there after a recent basement cleaning frenzy. In short, I asked Sherrod Brown to sponsor a Resolution honoring my wife on her twenty-seventh birthday.
Not only did he say, "Yes," he even agreed to the exact wording I proposed. And so, on June 13, 1979, The Ohio House of Representatives, under the sponsorship of Representative Sherrod Brown, House District #61, unanimously passed the following resolution:
"On behalf of the members of the House of Representatives of the 113th General Assembly of Ohio, we are pleased to take this opportunity to congratulate ANN DANIELS on the occasion of her twenty-seventh birthday.
"Despite advancing years and the handicap of a husband of dubious character, you continue to be a vital member of society and a revered citizen of our state.
"Your contribution to the Arts in Columbus...; your work with Bethlehem Lutheran Church; your friendships; and the cheerful, efficient manner in which you care for a virtually helpless spouse have earned you the plaudits of our state.
"Good luck, God bless and may you have many more."
The document was signed by Brown and Speaker Riffe.
What does all of this say about Sherrod Brown?
First of all, it says that at least twenty-seven years ago, he had a great sense of humor. He'll probably need that on his new job in Washington.
Secondly, it may say that he's a bit sadistic. I remember him laughing at my proposed text, but not once did he say, "Hey Mark, are you sure you want to be called 'helpless' and 'of dubious character' here?" And so the State of Ohio is still officially on record as tagging me with these labels. I wonder if that wasn't Sherrod Brown's game all along? Hmmm.
The last time I saw or spoke with Brown was in early-1980. By that time, I'd left the State House and was enrolled in the Master of Divinity program at the seminary. A professor, aware of my former place of employment, had asked me to find a politician who was also a Christian and might be willing to talk about the role faith played in his public policy decisionmaking. After I made a phone call, Brown spoke to the prof's class and the-then State Representative and I had another chat during a coffee break the same day.
The real reason I tell this story is that, amid the uncivil frothing at the mouth that passes for political debate these days, we all too often forget that our public officials are real human beings. Many are decent people. Often, they have a sense of humor. And, whether we agree with their politics or not, I think we should remember these things.
[THANKS TO: Joe Gandelman of The Moderate Voice for linking to this post.]