‘Rising political star’ Max Brown grew up roaming Capitol’s halls

He’s a high-energy millennial, a young man enthusiastic about fatherhood, the Olympia community, his faith and his political future.

It’s still a little early to say how public life will play out for Max Brown. But at 24, he’s the youngest chair of the Olympia Planning Commission that anyone around City Hall or in planning circles can remember. He was elected to the post in January, just a few months after his appointment to the commission.

“He’s a rising political star,” Olympia City Council member Jeannine Roe suggested. “I can certainly see him on the City Council some day.”

Asked about his political ambitions, Brown doesn’t deny them, but will pursue them only if it doesn’t interfere with family. He and his wife, Shannon — they were sweethearts at Capital High School and married Jan. 1, 2011 — have a 4-month-old daughter, Maddox. He’s a proud papa, quick to show friends and strangers alike photos of her on his cellphone.

“I’m a young guy with a young family,” he said. “Family is my top priority.”

But community service doesn’t seem too far behind. I met Brown for lunch and an interview last week at Vic’s Pizzeria on Capitol Boulevard, one of three businesses clustered in what’s known as the Wildwood Building. The neighborhood shopping center was built in 1938, then morphed into other uses until recently when it emerged as a type of neighborhood shopping center, including a grocery store, coffee shop, pizza place and a soon-to-open lunch shop. It’s the kind of neighborhood commercial center that fits in nicely with city efforts to ensure that neighborhoods have basic services within walking distance and on key bus routes in town.

Meeting there was Brown’s idea. He’s a big fan of a walkable, transit-friendly future for Olympia. He came to lunch on an Intercity Transit bus from the Capitol where he works as executive assistant and events manager for Gov. Jay Inslee’s Results Washington, a program measuring state government performance.

Brown works the pizzeria like a politician, chatting up patrons and business owners. Look up the definition of “extrovert” in the dictionary, and you’ll find Brown.

“He’s always been like that,” said his father, Marty Brown, a longtime fixture in state politics, serving as a key aide to governors Chris Gregoire and Gary Locke, and two-time director of the Office of Financial Management. “He’s a one-man cocktail party, affable and outgoing — the president of his high school senior class and captain of the football team.”

When Max was a preschooler, the Capitol was his playground. His dad was secretary of the state Senate, and Max often roamed the inner sanctum of the Senate chambers. He was usually wearing a tie.

“He learned to tie a tie before he learned to tie his own shoes,” his dad said, recalling one time when his son gave Lt. Gov. Brad Owen — then a state senator from Shelton — a tie-tieing lesson.

After high school, Brown attended the University of Oregon, but transferred his sophomore year to Seattle Pacific University. He became a Christian at the age of 19, earned his degree in theology and is a deacon in the Mars Hill Church in downtown Olympia.

He’s also a vegan, a triathlete and teaches an exercise class at Tumwater Valley.

He and his wife made a conscious decision to live in their hometown and get involved in the community. He was among about a dozen people last spring who applied for six slots on the nine-member city planning commission. He made a good impression.

“We were looking for some younger voices and business voices and people who could work well together,” said Roe, who chaired the council’s general government committee and forwarded candidates to the full council for approval. “He impressed me as a natural born leader that can cut across generational boundaries,” Roe said.

While it’s rare for young people to apply to work on the City Council’s key advisory committee, Brown was joined on the commission by Jessica Bateman, 32, a graduate of The Evergreen State College’s master’s program in public administration and legislative aide to state Rep. Chris Reykdal, D-Tumwater.

“I think he’s been amazing,” Bateman said of Brown’s performance as planning commission chair. “He’s a great team builder and collaborator, and he’s keeping us on track.”

The planning commission in recent months has evolved into a group that realizes that developers play a key role in reviving downtown Olympia.

“In the past, the city has had an awful relationship with the development community,” Brown opined. An increase in the number of people living downtown in market rate housing will help improve downtown’s economic and social health, he agreed.

Other issues he’s eager to work on include improved relations between the City Council and the planning commission; increased maintenance of city assets, including Percival Landing; and finding ways to integrate Olympia’s west side with the rest of the city.

Rest assured, Max Brown is just getting started.

John Dodge: 360-754-5444jdodge@theolympian.com