When Your Friend Runs for Congress

Recently-announced Congressional candidate Chris Bruneau. Photo by John Griswold


Chris Bruneau, Republican candidate for US Congress, lives in Bel Air, Maryland, 30 miles northeast of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. This is Maryland’s 1st Congressional District, the state’s largest district and only deep-red one. The upright of its L-shape comprises eight of the state’s top-10 counties with the most farmland, on the Eastern Shore of Chesapeake Bay, and its base runs out to Ocean City and down to Assateague Island. It is a beautiful, mostly rural area, home to both farmers and watermen, and that is where some of its drama begins.

I have known Chris for decades and recently visited him and his wife, Maureen, at their hilltop home in a subdivision on the edge of town. Bel Air is also the Harford County seat, and the Harford County Republican Party will host a campaign-kickoff fundraiser for him on September 13 at the Maryland Golf and Country Club in Bel Air. The keynote speaker will be Boyd Rutherford, Maryland’s ninth Lieutenant Governor. Chris is eagerly anticipating the event and will no doubt be in his element. He is gregarious, a storyteller, and has an astonishing memory.

Chris grew up in Baltimore, where his dad owned a print shop with five locations in Maryland. His sister Michelle was married to a nice guy who was a soldier, and Chris went to military school from ages twelve to sixteen. He says it was “a foregone conclusion” he would join the army himself. He was seventeen when enlisted in 1978.

He trained as an infantryman, served in the Adjutant General’s Corps, then retrained as an army deep-sea diver. He and I attended the Naval Diving and Salvage Training Center together and were both stationed at Fort Eustis, Virginia. We had lively times, as they say. He served in Panama and Germany, and after he left active duty in 1989 served as a captain in the Maryland Defense Force, a parallel to the National Guard.

One of the things that has kept us friends all these years is that Chris has done many kinds of things in his life and has an intense curiosity about the world. He tries. I remember when he was delivering pizzas after the army and talking about having his own business one day. Soon after that he was in house sales, and he has owned a franchise of a nationwide provider of fire and water restoration services for many years. He became a father then a grandfather.

At the controls of his Beechcraft Sierra, which came with a Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps gremlin on the nose. Photo by John Griswold

He bought a boat and motored it, with only his King Charles Spaniel as first mate, up half of The Great Loop. He built his own kitchen. He took flying lessons and then bought an airplane. He got interested in sewing, learned to use a sewing machine, reupholstered his furniture, then made new isinglass windows for his boat and another man’s. Along the way he bought four industrial sewing machines, set up a workshop in his basement, and sews regularly to relax.

“I like to make things work,” he tells me. “I like to fix things.”

The incumbent for Maryland’s 1st is Andy Harris. Harris is probably best known nationally for trying to take a gun to the floor of the House, one year after the storming of the Capitol, and, despite being an MD, prescribing invermectin as a treatment for COVID—something Donald Trump promoted—despite the FDA saying it should not be used for that purpose. Harris said he would not serve more than six terms but is in his seventh, in part because he seems to have had no Republican challengers during primary season the last couple of cycles. I cannot find an announcement of his candidacy.

Chris, who is no naïf, understands his odds with different eventualities. He also knows that as a junior congressperson he would be expected to toe the party line, but he is trying to present himself, at least in conversation with me, as something closer to what used to be a centrist. One of the issues of that district is both super-contemporary and filled with conflict: What to do about the competing demands of fishing and farming, in an age of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and a changing climate.

I listened to his ideas. We talked, argued, and agreed on a few things. I asked him why congress. He said to serve the people of the 1st District of Maryland, and I pulled a face.

He said his dad had implied there were two kinds of people in the world—givers and takers. Chris said his dad, who was a giver, had told Chris he was also a giver by nature.

“And that’s how I feel about things,” Chris told me. “There’s no greater joy than giving. To go out and serve people as a congressman in a district—that’s not drudgery, that’s not an onerous task, that’s a privilege.”

Creating campaign video intro. Photo by John Griswold

I watched a while as he taped campaign videos, but I needed to roll on down the road, where another friend and his wife from the old days were waiting in Maryland’s 4th. They are Republicans too. All the guys I served with are Republicans now.

I shook Chris’s hand and told him he was a good man and that I was proud of all he had accomplished. I said I admired his ambition at an age when he certainly could start to relax. But please don’t blow up the world, I told him. While I was loading my bags he put an Army Diver Association sticker on the back window of my car without me knowing, as a reminder of our common past.

John Griswold

John Griswold is a staff writer at The Common Reader. His most recent book is a collection of essays, The Age of Clear Profit: Essays on Home and the Narrow Road (UGA Press 2022). His previous collection was Pirates You Don’t Know, and Other Adventures in the Examined Life. He has also published a novel, A Democracy of Ghosts, and a narrative nonfiction book, Herrin: The Brief History of an Infamous American City. He was the founding Series Editor of Crux, a literary nonfiction book series at University of Georgia Press. His work has been included and listed as notable in Best American anthologies.