Hello, new Congress, and goodbye to some of Congress’ most prominent legacies.
Next year will mark the end of the Dodds, the Bayhs and the Bennetts. And for the first time in more than six decades, no member of the Kennedy family will hold a seat in Congress. The late Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), who served 48 years, died in 2009, and his son, Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.), is retiring after six terms in the House.
In all, seven legacy Members will leave Congressional politics at the end of 2010.
That’s not to say Congress is no longer a family business. There’s a new father-and-son team in the House and Senate in Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) and Sen.­-elect Rand Paul (R-Ky.). Reps.-elect Charlie Bass (R-N.H.) and Ben Quayle (R-Ariz.) are also following in their father’s footsteps as Members.
Senate Historian Don Ritchie said voters don’t always reward legacies, particularly in an election year like 2010, when voters favored fresh faces over establishment candidates. “It’s a brand name that voters feel comfortable with in a lot of cases,” Ritchie said. But “if it happens to be an anti-incumbency year and your name is considered established, it can work against you.”
Sen. Bob Bennett (R-Utah), who got his start in politics by managing his father’s Senate re-election campaign in 1962, saw the end of his Senate career when he failed to win his party’s nomination at a GOP convention in May.
Two other Senate legacies opted for retirement. Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), whose late father, Sen. Tom Dodd, served three terms in the Senate, made his retirement announcement in January after determining his low poll numbers and the anti-establishment mood in his home state were insurmountable. Similarly, Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) opted against running for a third term. Bayh’s father, Birch Bayh, served 18 years in the Senate.
Dodd and Bayh are longtime political fixtures in their home states, and both grew up in Washington while their fathers were in Congress. Each has complained about how partisan the Senate has become in recent years.
“There is too much partisanship and not enough progress; too much narrow ideology and not enough practical problem-solving,” Bayh said in his February retirement announcement.
The number of siblings serving in Congress will also shrink next year. There were three pairs of siblings in the 111th Congress, and there will be just two in the 112th: California Democratic Reps. Loretta and Linda Sanchez and Michigan Sen. Carl Levin (D) and his brother, Rep. Sander Levin (D). Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R) is retiring from representing Florida's 21st district. His brother, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R), is switching from his own district to Lincoln’s seat because the 25th had become too difficult to win.
Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) are the remaining Senate legacies. Pryor, whose father served in the Senate and as Arkansas governor, said legacy Members learn how to legislate at an early age by watching their parents. He suggested that other veteran lawmakers will have to fill the void left by those outgoing legacies next year.
“That’s a loss,” Pryor said of the departures of some of his colleagues. “All of those who love the institution and have a lot of respect for the Senate as an institution; it’s almost in their DNA. Hopefully, the new guys who come in and take their places will have that same kind of respect.”