Family Tradition In the 109th
Four New Members Follow Parents’ Paths Into Congress
At Ivy League schools and in college fraternities, the children of former members and alumni are almost guaranteed acceptance. Just the drop of a name and the mention of relation helps an applicant stand above the rest.
In Congress, the guarantee is not as certain, but a political lifetime’s worth of connections and name recognition can help the son or daughter of a former Member of Congress in the pursuit of his or her own seat.
The 109th Congress has four new Congressional legacies following in the footsteps of fathers, mothers and grandfathers.
Rep. Dan Boren (D-Okla.) succeeds both his father, David Boren, and his grandfather, Lyle Boren, into Congress. David Boren retired in 1994 after three terms as an Oklahoma Senator, and Lyle Boren served as a Representative from the state from 1937 until he lost re-election in 1946.
Dan Boren’s memories of campaigning as a teenager for his father’s final Senatorial campaign are not particularly fond.
“I remember not wanting to campaign, being the kid and everyone squeezing the cheeks,” he recalled. At 17, friends and sports touted politics in his mind, he said.
Missouri Rep. Russ Carnahan (D) has different memories of campaigning for his father, Mel Carnahan. The elder Carnahan served in the Missouri House of Representatives before becoming governor. His mother, Jean Carnahan, served as a Democratic Senator from Missouri for two years after her husband won the seat posthumously. Jean Carnahan was defeated in a re-election bid in 2002.
Russ Carnahan said his experiences on the campaign trail sparked his interest in politics.
“It stems from my lifelong involvement from the time I was eight years old passing out brochures for my dad when he was running for the state Legislature,” he said. “It always seemed like the natural thing to do in my family.”
Like Boren, Carnahan’s family has been entrenched in politics for generations. Carnahan’s grandfather, A.S.J. Carnahan, held a seat in the House from 1949 to 1961.
Rep. Connie Mack IV (R-Fla.) won his seat in the House four years after his father, Connie Mack III, vacated his seat in the Senate. The former Senator also represented Florida in the House for three terms.
While the younger Mack said he decided to run for office later in life after starting a family and a career, he has fond memories of campaigning with his father in 1982 when he was in the eighth grade.
“I thought it was fun. We were having pizza parties and stuffing envelopes and filming television commercials on the beach with my dad and it was fun,” he said.
Of the Members following family into office this year, Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.) is the only one to fill a seat directly after his father. Rep. Bill Lipinski (D) announced is decision to step down in August, and the younger Lipinski was a shoo-in to fill his father’s seat.
Lipinski said his father’s participation in politics played a part in his own decision to run.
“It did affect my decision in the way that I watched what my father did for the state,” he said. “It made an impression upon me that public service was a good thing.”
His father’s experiences also gave Lipinski a chance to learn a lot about how to get things done in Congress, he said.
But while all four men agreed their families’ involvement in the political process encouraged them to pursue their own political careers, they said they were never pressured to do so by their parents.
“My father never pushed me,” Boren said. “In fact, he almost discouraged me because it’s such a tough job.”
But the draw of life inside the Beltway, and the promise of connections already made, proved too strong for all four men.
“My father has built up relationships with other Members, which is good,” Lipinski said. “It doesn’t assure me of anything, but it helps.”
Sometimes, however, those connections can prove detrimental.
“With families involved in public service, you also inherit the enemies,” Boren said.
In Boren’s case, he had to overcome his father’s negative relationship with organized labor in his district. “It was a challenge, but it was one that we overcame,” he said. “I did that by saying ‘I’m Dan Boren. I’m going to be an individual-minded person.’”
Mack also said he tried to distinguish himself as independent on the campaign trail.
“The first thing we did was not have my father campaigning with me,” Mack said. “It was my race and that was something we made clear early on.”
And while all four of the incoming legacies said they tend to adhere to the ideals and positions of their parents, they have tried to draw attention to their political differences as well.
“You can’t help but be influenced by your parents,” Lipinski said. “On the other hand, I’ve had experiences he never had. I’ve had different education and opportunities.”
Lipinski explained that his career as a college political science professor and his experience as a diabetic have shaped his positions on health care and education.
Boren also cited distinct ideological differences with his father.
“I’ve always been a strong supporter of the Second Amendment,” he said. “My father voted for the assault weapons ban. I would not have.”
Regardless of family similarities and connections this time around, all four will face the evaluation of their own records when they run for re-election in 2006.
“I’ve always had the attitude that having the family name is a good introduction,” said Carnahan. “But you have to go out there and prove yourself.”