(Editor’s Note: The questions and answers have been paraphrased for clarity and brevity.)
You represent a large portion of San Bernardino County. Is that where you grew up?
I am from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which is where I spent my formative years. I grew up on my grandfather and grandmother’s farm where they grew tomatoes and a lot of other row crops. They weren’t commercial farmers but they grew enough for themselves and they gave a lot of it away to neighbors.
My father was military, which ended up getting him a position with the Internal Revenue Service for one year. So we started in Pennsylvania then went to Washington D.C. for a year and then back to Pennsylvania and then we moved to California when I was about 14.
What brought you to California?
My father always wanted to live in California. He thought it was a place where all things were good. And it very much was for us. He had never been to California before we moved here. Initially we moved to Los Angeles in 1957 and then he found a job at Norton Air Force base (in San Bernardino) so we moved to San Bernardino, which is where I went to high school. Then on to college at both San Bernardino Community College, which is what it is called now. Back then it was Valley College. After that, I went to Cal State San Bernardino.
What career path did you expect to follow?
My mother told me that I was going to get an education and I should be a teacher. And originally that’s what I did. I was a substitute teacher. I did a lot of work with the developmentally disabled. I was a geography major in college and I worked for a while in the planning department in San Bernardino.
When did you first get involved politically?
I can’t tell you exactly when that happened. My parents, especially my mom, were very politically astute. My mom was very much involved in working to elect people that she supported. I remember she backed people such as Maxine Waters, Yvonne Braithwaite Burke, Tom Bradley, and Diane Watson, who eventually went to the U.S. Congress. I can’t really remember a time when I wasn’t involved. Later I worked on campaigns and began working in the offices of a number of legislators.
I know you were a journalist for a while. Tell me about that career.
I had a small child at home and I was a care giver for a grandparent and so I was looking for something that I could do. We had a friend in the media business with a couple of newspapers and I would write stories. At some point, Sam Martin started getting older and couldn’t do the work and so my husband and I bought the business. (In 1980, she and her husband, Hardy Brown Sr., founded Brown Publishing Company to circulate a community newspaper called the Black Voice News. The newspaper is published weekly and focuses on local news in Riverside and San Bernardino counties. Currently it is owned and operated by her daughter.)
Did you ever expect to run for office?
No, I did not. I was never planning on that. I did work for some politicians, including Gloria McLeod, in her district office. (Gloria McLeod represented San Bernardino in both the California Assembly and U.S. Congress for several different cycles over the past decade.) From here, I learned the political process. But my mother was ill, and I had to quit to help her through hospice. She did pass away and then I went to work for Amina Carter (California Assemblymember 2006-2012.)
Gloria McLeod and my husband worked together to convince me that I should run for office. It was a very difficult decision. One day on a Friday at 6:30 a.m. I went to church and prayed about it. I didn’t have the desire to run for office, but I prayed about it and when I got off my knees, I knew that is what I was going to do, and I knew I was going to win.
There were a lot of obstacles and it was a very hard, hard fight, but I did win. (First elected in 2012, Assemblymember Brown is running for her third term this fall.)
What were your signature issues?
I had several. First was education. I knew that we had to do something about educating our children and improving the education system. Second was helping to create a safe community. Public safety is very important. And third, I wanted to represent the small business community. I have been a small business owner for 30 years and I think helping small business is very important.
Do you believe that you have made progress on these issues since being in office?
I think we have, especially when it comes to education. I encouraged the Governor (Brown) to adopt a locally controlled funding formula, which has brought a lot of dollars for education to my district. In some of our schools we have seen the ADA (average daily attendance) funding increase from $700 to $10,000. We still have a lot of work to do to catch up with what happened during the recession, but we are going in the right direction. We have to improve education because the children are our future. We need them to have good jobs to help all of us in our future.
A lot of agriculture falls into the category of small business owners. Have you been able to accomplish anything on that front?
When I started in the Legislature, it seemed like my colleagues didn’t even want to talk about business, but that is changing. Small business owners are the key to job growth. We know that there are a lot of regulations and rules that affect small business. At the same time, these small businesses represent two-thirds of the jobs in the state. I am very much an advocate of doing what we can to help small businesses. Small businesses don’t care if you are a Republican or Democrat, they just need the help.
I do have some agriculture in my district and they are small businesses. I have one dairy that employs 100 people. That is still a small business and those jobs are very, very important.
I do not have as much agriculture in my district as we used to have. Out in Rialto and Fontana, we used to have fields and fields of grapes and they were used to make San Bernardino wine. There is some citrus in my district, but not very much anymore.
How have you found Republicans and Democrats working together in Sacramento?
We actually work very well together. On most issues, 75-85 percent of us vote alike. There are a few issues in which we disagree and that is understandable, but we are not like Washington, D.C. We actually work together and get along.
Have you endorsed a candidate for President?
I am endorsing Hillary. It is her time. If she was a man—with all of her experience and everything she has done—it wouldn’t even be a question. She has prepared herself very well and I think she will make an excellent president.
I read an article the other day that more and more of the California Legislature is made up of second generation members. Do you have any family members ready to follow you into the family business?
Politics is not our family business. The newspaper business is our family business and we do have a daughter that is running that business.
I do have a son who is a trustee in the county school district, but he was appointed to that position rather than being elected.
Our members produce the best fruits and vegetables in the world. Do you use our products?
We use lots of fruits and vegetables in our cooking every day. I have to be in Sacramento from Monday to Thursday afternoon each week. Then I come home on Thursday and every Sunday I prepare my husband’s meals for the following week to make it easy on him. And he wants his fresh vegetables. I fix a lot of collard greens, mustard greens and kale. Last Sunday, I made a squash dish with zucchini, yellow squash and Mexican squash. I fix broccoli. He gets lots of vegetables each week.