By Lynne Hendricks
GEORGETOWN — Freshman Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown didn't need his well-worn barn jacket and pickup truck to get a warm welcome from the city's business owners yesterday.
Sixteen months after winning a seat in a Democratic stronghold, the Republican senator got a warm reception from the sellout crowd gathered for the Greater Newburyport Chamber of Commerce & Industry's annual luncheon at Black Swan Country Club in Georgetown.
Brown, who was introduced by chamber President Ann Ormond as Newburyport's hard-working "native son," attended the event with his father, C. Bruce Brown, and stepmother, Peggy Brown, who are longtime residents of Plum Island, where the senator spent summers growing up.
Demonstrating the disarming candor he's become known for, Brown shared a private thought about family before moving on to politics and policy.
"I'm very thankful he's with me," Brown said of his father. "Like many families, we're a work in progress. We try to do better every day."
Brown moved quickly from the personal to delve into what he said are the biggest issues facing business owners and average Americans.
"How many people here have woken up in the night and said, 'Oh my goodness, I don't know if I can pay that salary, that electric bill?'" Brown said.
He said while those are the concerns of real business owners like the ones gathered at the luncheon, they aren't realized by most politicians in Washington.
"There is no recession in Washington," he said.
Problems stem from a number of places, he said. Thanks to layers of bureaucracy, it takes the U.S. years to build a 500,000-square-foot building that can be constructed in China in months, he said. Other countries are putting up wind turbines in a fraction of the time that states here are able to do the same thing, he said.
Brown raised the issue of a national debt that's increasingly mounting, with profits that should go to America's bottom line being funneled to China just to pay the debt service.
"Is it real?" he asked of the economic rut we're in. "Yeah, it's real. We're in trouble."
That's the kind of plain speak that earned Brown a majority of votes in the January 2010 special election. And when it comes to fixing the trouble he has witnessed since voters sent him to Washington to bring a new perspective to the Capitol, Brown employed equally plain language.
"We've gotten to this point, and there's plenty of blame to go around," Brown said. "Blame everybody. OK. Great. Now let's move on."
Brown discussed the ongoing budget deliberations in similar terms, suggesting the process could be streamlined to greater effect.
"The leaders will bring forward (Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan's) budget, and I will vote for it, and it will fail," he said. "Then the president will bring forward his budget, and it will fail.
"It will be great fodder for the commercials."
But in the end, he said he hopes the two sides will make quicker work of putting their heads together for the good of the country. Saying all is not lost, he believes now is a time to solve problems.
"There are people of goodwill on both sides of the aisle who get it," he said.
Brown took time to hear from business owners and chamber members gathered at the luncheon.
Newburyport resident Mark Swartz, who said he was forced to trim his small business budget by 20 percent during the economic downturn, asked Brown why Washington can't do the same.
Anna Jaques Hospital President George Ellison asked Brown if he could do anything to keep the state's airwaves from becoming overrun with an onslaught of negative political ads like they did when the senator was running for election.
"It ruined television in the state," he said.
Referencing a recent ad campaign by the League of Women Voters lambasting the senator's recent vote to limit the Environmental Protection Agency's power to regulate greenhouse gases, Brown adopted the deep, breathy voice of the spot's narrator to illustrate the kinds of ads voters are likely to see more of over the next 18 months.
"Scott Brown .... hates kids, dogs, cats," he said, before getting serious.
"It's already started," Brown said. "I've told everybody to stay out and let me go toe to toe with whoever it is (running). You've seen it. You deserve better."
Brown agreed with Ellison, who called the number of political ads that ruin television for weeks on end "despicable."
"Try being the candidate," said Brown, who added his wife and kids are especially troubled by the critical ads that are primarily funded by out-of-state interests.
But unlike last time around, he said this time the negative ads will get a proper rebuttal.
"I'm going to have the resources to fight back," he said.