Brownback originally planned to return to the farm, but that changed during the farm crisis of the 1980s. Food supply increased while demand stayed the same, and federal land subsidies began to wane. Farmers all across the Midwest faced an uncertain economic future; to Brownback, it no longer seemed like a viable career path.
"I went to law school with a plan of going back home and practicing law to support my farming, and Dad said, 'There's just not room here for us.' So I took off to practice law and got involved in some politics, and the rest just moved on forward," Brownback said.
In 1986, Brownback became the youngest secretary of agriculture in Kansas' history. Four years later, he accepted a position as a White House fellow under President George H.W. Bush's administration, working in the Office of the United States Trade Representative.
As part of Newt Gingrich's Republican revolution, Brownback was elected to Congress in 1994 when he was only 38 years old. One year later, in 1995, he was diagnosed with melanoma.
The cancer diagnosis brought Brownback closer to God.
"It made my faith real. You know, something about when the … physician says, 'OK, it's malignant, we're going to have to do something here,'" Brownback said. "It made me search and really ask, 'Is there a God there that really loves me?' I had been a Christian for a long time, but my faith wasn't active in my life. And [the melanoma] made it real."
Brownback describes himself as religious and conservative, and considers his faith values an important part of his life; public and private.
"Everybody has values. Now, you know it may be formed in a secular setting, it may be formed in an intellectual setting, but everybody comes forward with values. And I don't think faith values should be excluded from the public square," he said.
Still, he gives pause when considering whether a politician with faith is a better leader.
"There's no religious test in our country, and there shouldn't be. We're an open, competitive society. I think people just bring forward their ideas, and their values, and the beauty of America is it's tended [to] … after a period of time, generally get things right. We have a lot of false starts along the way, but eventually we'll get things right," Brownback said.