Rubbing Elbows

Sunny Side of Politics

James Brett, SPA/BA '73


Photo­graphy by
Jessica Scranton

James Brett

Forget the rubber chicken circuit. For presidential hopefuls in New Hampshire, breakfast is the most important meal of the day.

That’s due in large part to James Brett.

In 1996, the longtime president and CEO of the New England Council, America’s oldest regional business organization, revitalized Politics and Eggs. The morning political forum has become a standard stop for candidates seeking the White House. All the big names—Bush, Clinton, Trump, and the candidates they vanquished—have come to the Granite State to speak to a roomful of movers and shakers, field questions from Brett, and sign an iconic wooden egg.

“We don’t have to reach out to candidates who are serious about running for president. They call us,” he says.

Brett is a lifelong Bostonian, as his accent makes clear. As a kid, he delivered the Record American newspaper in the city’s Dorchester neighborhood, where then Speaker of the House John McCormack lived on his route.

When Brett got to AU, the speaker gave him a job delivering mail to the Rayburn, Cannon, and Longworth buildings. “I said, ‘Mr. Speaker, how can I ever repay you?’” Brett recalls. “He said, ‘Jimmy, you know how you can repay me? Help someone else along the way who can’t repay you. That’ll be my reward.’”

That spirit has permeated Brett’s life ever since.

In 1981 he was elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives, where he served for more than 15 years. He chaired five committees, but dedicated much of his energy to advocating for the disabled, as his late brother, Jack, was born with mental disabilities.

A lifelong Democrat, Brett was appointed by George W. Bush in 2004 to what is now the President’s Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities. President Obama made him the chairperson. He’s also chaired the Governor’s Commission on Intellectual Disability in Massachusetts for 19 years.

Despite his decades in the political arena, Brett is not cynical about the system. He continues to see the sunny side of public service. “I’m one of these people that believe politics is a noble profession,” he says. “If you work together, you can get an awful lot done. It’s having a civil approach, respecting each other’s point of view. I always try to find common ground.”