Watching the recent 60 Minutes interview of “The resilient Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA)” I was reminded of a profile Morley Safer did 30 years earlier of Rep. Millicent Fenwick (R-NJ).
“Fenwick is an elegant, literate dead-honest legislator whose somewhat patrician manner gets on some people’s nerves and amuses others. She has often defied the Republican Party line, championing consumer causes, women’s rights and civil rights long before they were fashionable.” She received low scores from groups like the American Conservative Union and perfect scores from Common Cause, and near perfect ratings from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
Fenwick, best remembered as the pipe-smoking grandmother in Congress and the model for Garry Trudeau’s Doonesbury character Lacey Davenport would have been 101 years old last Friday, February 25.
Like Brown, she was a rising star in the Republican Party and widely popular in her state. Both had independent streaks and no qualms about reaching across the aisle. Despite being a Republican, Fenwick didn’t often vote along party lines. In fact, Rep. Tom Lantos (D-CA), once said “When I disagreed with [Fenwick] I felt unclean and immediately would go home and take a shower because on those very rare occasions when I voted the other way, I knew I was wrong because she always voted on principle.”
Brown and Fenwick have something else in common, they capitalized on their good looks. Brown was a centerfold for Cosmo and used his modeling money to pay for law school, Fenwick modeled for Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue where she went on to become a copy editor and worked her way up as an associate editor, to support her two young children.
It remains to be seen what course Brown's Senate career takes. But Fenwick’s rising star faded after eight years in Congress. Due to the 1980 census and gerrymandering, Fenwick’s old district had been redrawn. Instead of running against another congressional incumbent she decided to run for a vacant Senate seat and lost to newcomer, Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), in 1982.
Right now, she’s probably rolling in her grave as the government contemplates a shutdown over the budget. She would be the first to point out government responsibility (or lack thereof) and the fact that passage of a federal budget is nearly five months overdue.
Walter Cronkite dubbed her the “Conscience of Congress.” She was the voice of honesty, integrity, and ethics -- even going so far as writing checks to the U.S. Treasury to reimburse the government for congressional pay raises mandated by a congressional vote she opposed. Not only that, she returned more than $450,000 to the U.S. Treasury in unspent office expenses.
As we watch what takes place this week over the current budget battles, it will be interesting to see what Scott Brown does -- stay loyal to the party or show his independent streak.
Amy Schapiro wrote "Millicent Fenwick: Her Way," the first biography about the former congresswoman and U.N. ambassador.