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Everything a Father Should Be

Courtesy Rep. William Lacy Clay
As a child, Rep. William Lacy Clay (right) watched from the House floor as his father, former Rep. William Lacy Clay Sr., was sworn in.

The January after he was first elected to Congress, Rep. William Lacy Clay was sworn in — for the second time in his life.

Thirty-two years earlier, the Missouri Democrat had watched from the House floor as his father, former Democratic Rep. William Lacy Clay Sr., was sworn in.

“When he raised his hand to take the oath of office, I raised mine, too — at the age of 12 years old,” he said.

Clay is one of 26 current Members of Congress to follow his or her father’s footsteps into the Capitol.

Only one Member, Rep. Russ Carnahan (D-Mo.), was preceded by his mother, former Sen. Jean Carnahan (D-Mo.).

Growing up around Congress had its perks — children of Members often had free rein of their fathers’ offices, the Capitol grounds and, sometimes, the White House.

Rep. Bob Latta (R-Ohio) got to spend snow days at the Capitol with his father, former Rep. Del Latta (R-Ohio), who would put him to work.

“It didn’t make any difference to me,” he said. “I just liked being there.”

Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) and his five brothers and sisters would cram into the office of his father, the late Rep. Nick Begich (D-Alaska). They would interrupt meetings and even play in the House gym.

“Did I understand the historical moments? No,” he said. “But did I know as a kid I had a great playground? Yes.”

The late Rep. Stewart Udall’s (D-Ariz.) prominent role in the House landed his son, Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), a chance to attend young Lucy Johnson’s birthday party at the Johnson White House.

“It was very lively, and I asked the first lady — Lady Bird Johnson — to rock and roll with me,” Udall said. “She accepted. It was a hoot!”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) got a chance to visit the Capitol early on, thanks to her father, the late Rep. Thomas D’Alesandro (D-Md.).

“My brothers kept saying, ‘Nancy, look at the Capitol!’ and I asked in reply, ‘Is it a capital A, B, or C?’” she said in an email.

Getting There

Despite the fun and inspiring childhoods they enjoyed, most legacy Members didn’t plan on entering politics — and their fathers weren’t always encouraging.

“My dad would never have said this was what he wanted me to do,” Latta said. When he started law school in Ohio, “my dad’s parting words to me that day were, ‘Stay there.’”

Rep. Walter Jones Jr. (R-N.C.) said his father, the late Rep. Walter Jones (D-N.C.), never encouraged him to get into politics. Nor did former Rep. Michael Bilirakis (R-Fla.) encourage his son, Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-Fla.).

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