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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.

The lessons Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart learned from his parents apply directly to Congress. The Florida Republican, whose father was once the Majority Leader of the Cuban House, grew up in exile after Fidel Castro took over the country. His dad retrained as a lawyer but continued fighting for freedom in his home country, founding the first anti-Castro organization in Cuba. 

“Everything that I stand for I learned from my parents,” Diaz-Balart said. “What makes me tick is freedom ... wherever oppression exists. I’m really passionate about that.”

Members’ parents influence their political lives in subtle ways, too. Rep. Gary Ackerman’s father, a longtime New York City cab driver, was a big help in his son’s campaigns.

“When I decided to get involved in politics, I had a full-time, round-the-clock pollster,” the New York Democrat said. “He knew everything about what people thought on all sides of the issue, and he could tell me exactly why I was wrong.”

Rep. Xavier Becerra’s father used his connections to find the California Democrat his first job.

Becerra’s father worked a host of manual labor jobs throughout his life, first as a shoe shiner at the age of 6. He spent time picking crops, cleaning ships’ hulls and canning tomatoes for Campbell’s Soup Co. until he retired as a road construction worker. Eventually, father and son had the chance to work side by side.

“I’d get to relieve him from some of the more burdensome tasks like working with a jackhammer,” Becerra said. “So that was fun. I really enjoyed being able to let him take it easy for a bit while I took over the jackhammer.”

Becerra wasn’t the only one who used family connections to land a job. Coble’s father helped his son get a job working at a Belk store. Snowe’s uncle persuaded a neighbor to give his niece a waitressing job in his restaurant. Risch’s father made sure there was a job waiting for his son when he left for college.

If they can’t offer employment, parents with interesting jobs have other perks to offer their children, ranging from sweet treats to free rides. When she was very young, Snowe would visit her father at the diner he owned in Augusta.

“I’d sit at the counter and he’d give me my hot fudge sundaes,” she said.

Ackerman bummed a ride or two from his father, too.

“He never charged me, anyway,” Ackerman said. “When he drove me, it was always in his taxi — but not with the meter up.”

Whatever their parents did for a living, lawmakers said they were proud of them and the opportunities they gave their children.

“We’re not a wealthy family, but I have the greatest inheritance that any parent can give their kids,” Diaz-Balart said. “A last name that represents their integrity and honor and dedication.”

These aren’t the only Members whose parents held interesting or unusual jobs. Here are some of the most surprising.

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