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The Parent Makes the Politician?

File Photo
Speaker John Boenher learned lessons while sweeping the floor of his father's bar.

By now, almost everyone has heard Speaker John Boehner talk about the lessons he learned sweeping the floor of his father’s bar.

But the Ohio Republican is not the only lawmaker whose parents’ jobs influenced his politics.

Rep. Howard Coble has a similar story. His father, who only finished the seventh grade, started out mopping floors at the Belk department store and stayed with the company until he retired as a store manager, 44 years later.

“I try to practice things that I learned from my mom and dad in my present job,” the North Carolina Republican said, “to work diligently and perform well on the job, don’t take shortcuts and take the time and do it right. That’s exactly what they did.”

There’s a wide range in Members’ roots: Wyoming Republican Sen. John Barrasso’s father was a cement finisher, while Rhode Island Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse’s father once worked for the CIA. 

Many have another politician in their family tree. Reps. Charles Bass (R-N.H.) and Ben Quayle (R-Ariz.) and Sens. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) all followed in their fathers’ footsteps when they entered Congress. 

Several grew up as the children of ministers or priests, including Rep. Lois Capps (D-Calif.) and Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.). Many grew up in farming families, including Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-Md.) and Sens. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.), Dick Lugar (R-Ind.) and Roy Blunt (R-Mo.).

More than a handful of Members have parents who were life insurance salesmen, teachers or grocery store owners.

Regardless of the jobs their parents held, many Members credit their own work ethics to their upbringings.

Sen. James Risch (R-Idaho) is originally from Milwaukee, where his father climbed telephone poles for Wisconsin Bell. A German immigrant, Risch’s father worked for the company from the time he left school until he retired.

“He was really insistent that all of us get up in the morning and go to work. That was in the family’s blood,” Risch said. “It’s just the habits they get you in from the time that you’re able to walk.”

It’s not just parents, either. Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) was raised by an aunt and uncle during the summers after her parents died. She says watching her uncle work at his barbershop in Lewiston, Maine, taught her the value of small businesses.

“You don’t realize it at the time, but you draw so many lessons from those life experiences, particularly as you’re growing up,” she said. “Little could I appreciate or realize then that I would be in a position where all those experiences could bring to bear my views on those very same policies before the Senate.”

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