Democrat Ann Brown, Republican Nancy Hart: Friendship survived politics

The Honorable Ann Brown and Nancy Hart in a portrait at Brown's home in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., on December 20, 2022.

Ann Brown and Nancy Hart say their friendship of three decades has survived a growing political chasm for one reason: mutual respect.

Brown, an ardent Democrat, and Hart, an equally steadfast Republican, say they emphasize their nonpolitical commonalities, especially philanthropy and community service. But more than anything, the two simply say they “treasure” their friendship too much to let politics get between them.

“She is very, very active in good works and I support that and she supports me,” Brown said of Hart.

“And you know what, we discuss, we talk and we agree to disagree,” Hart added.

The ability to discuss, and accept, a differing political point of view seems increasingly a rarity across America, and a flashpoint frequently severing bonds between families and friends. This year, the country, and Florida, endured another bruising, and caustic, election season that has once again tested the limits of partisan tolerance.

A Pew Research Center poll released ahead of the November midterm vote showed that the rank-and-file within both major parties don’t just see rival political ideologies in a “negative light” but the people espousing them as well.

“Growing shares of both Republicans and Democrats say members of the other party are more immoral, dishonest, closed-minded than other Americans,” Pew’s poll concluded. And they do so by ample margins registering from 60% to 80%, the survey showed.

The friction is likely to add heartburn to holiday dinners as families and friends gather again, perhaps for the first time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, for the year-end holidays, including Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa and New Year’s.

Brown and Hart, who both live in Palm Beach Gardens, say they, too, could easily fall into the partisan abyss but their friendship and loyalty means too much to them.

Besides their lunches and shared past, they are bonded in support for each other’s community causes. Brown, who still spends half the year or so living in Washington, D.C., is active in helping the Lord’s Place, Palm Beach Dramaworks and B’nai B’rith.

Hart, who moved to Palm Beach County as a full-time resident from Vermont in 1992 with her husband, backs the Dreyfoos School of the Arts and the Melanoma Foundation as well as the nonpartisan American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

But both are clear they don’t steer away from or avoid “taboo” political discussions about abortion, immigration or presidential politics. No, they say they go head to head, no holds barred.

“We agree on nothing,” said Brown, who was appointed by President Bill Clinton to serve as chair of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. “I love her every minute. I listen to her with respect for her opinion and she listens to me. But we are on different sides of the political spectrum. It’s as simple as that, and it has not in any way ruined our friendship. In fact, we have our lunches together and it makes us closer.”

Hart, who has supported former President Donald Trump and Gov. Ron DeSantis, agreed.

“It makes me think and I do like to think,” Hart added. “I haven’t changed my mind really very much, but at least I understand where she’s coming from. She explains her beliefs. It’s not just, ‘I believe this without any reasoning behind it.’ She has reasons and that helps me to understand where she’s coming from and I respect that.”

Friendship before partisanship

Not only do they respect each other, they’ve also defended each other against rudeness from within their own political ranks.

Hart shares what she calls a telling anecdote from a gathering the two attended during the late 2000s. During a question-and-answer session with a Florida state representative, Hart said she inquired how the Democratic lawmaker planned to pay for a program they were touting.

Nancy Hart and the Honorable Ann Brown in a portrait at Brown's home in Palm Beach Gardens.

“I raised my hand and I said, ‘And how do you propose to pay for this?'” Hart said. “And her answer to me was, ‘Who let that woman in this room?'”

Hart said she was shocked, but Brown quickly came to her defense in chastising the lawmaker by reminding her the group was nonpartisan and Hart’s question was a legitimate area of discussion. “Ann stood up for me right then and there,” Hart recalls.

“What I did was I didn’t worry about who was Republican or Democrat,” Brown recalled. “I stood up for my friend. And I think that is where friendship supersedes everything.”

Because, Brown added, it all comes down to their mutual admiration and appreciation. “You can see respect is the key word here,” she said. “We respect each other.”

Brown said the friction over politics is due, perhaps, to people who have lost perspective.

“Really, it’s friendship over all else. When you have a good friend or a relative who is close, you want to treasure it, and separate it,” said Brown, who just this year helped fundraise for Democrat Val Demings’ U.S. Senate campaign.

Brown said she has been engaged and involved in politics since her teenage years, so she understands the passion behind the partisanship.

“I am a passionate person politically. But my friendship with Nancy overrides that,” she said. “She is more of a treasure to me. People must think about what the friendship means to them and ask why can’t they have both in their lives, politics and friendship.”

Hart nodded in agreement.

“The most important thing to me is to be able listen and to have the ability to talk,” she said.

Hart said she has been shunned by people because of partisan differences. There are erstwhile friends, she said, who “don’t talk to me anymore” after “stomping out” in a political disagreement.

“That’s not the way our system should work,” Hart said “We are a democratic republic. We should listen to each other. We can agree. We can disagree.”

That’s how it is with Brown, she said.

“We say, ‘OK, I understand what you’re thinking’ … and we move on,” Hart said. “And now what are we going to order for dinner?”