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Hill is rife with progeny of lawmakers past
By Carl Weiser
Gannett News Service
WASHINGTON -- Pennsylvania car dealer Bill Shuster wants to take over his father's business: making laws.
If, as expected, Shuster wins a special election Tuesday to fill the House seat his father, Bud, held for 28 years, the younger Shuster will join plenty of other political progeny on Capitol Hill.
At least 25 members of the House and Senate are descendants of earlier members of Congress -- in college fraternity terms, ''legacies.'' That's about one of every 20 members.
Last year alone, Rep. Lacy Clay, D-Mo., won a St. Louis-area seat, replacing his retiring father, and GOP Rep. Shelley Moore Capito won a West Virginia seat her father gave up in 1969.
Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen has the longest political pedigree: He's the sixth generation of his family to represent New Jersey in Congress.
''The name is usually good for one step up. And then very much they're on their own,'' says Stephen Hess, a Brookings Institution senior fellow and author of the 1996 book America's Political Dynasties: From Adams to Kennedy.
While campaigning, Republican Bill Shuster rarely mentions his father, who has a state highway named after him. But his opponent does. Democrat Scott Conklin, running in a district that hasn't sent a Democrat to Congress in nearly 60 years, points out Shuster's parentage on his Web site while noting he is the son of a carpenter.
Asked about his influential father, Bill Shuster, 40, told the Chambersburg, Pa., Public Opinion, ''This is about Bill Shuster, and Bill Shuster standing on his own two feet. I've been running my own business for the last 11 years. I run my own show.''
A son taking over a father's seat might find it easier to get on the committees that his father served on. He might get additional mentoring from his father's old buddies.
But Rep. Charlie Gonzalez, D-Texas, who took over the San Antonio seat of his father, Henry Gonzalez, says, ''I think in politics there's a general rule that you can count on inheriting your father's enemy, and not necessarily his friends.''
The family ties on Capitol Hill extend beyond direct descendants.
Democratic brothers Sandy and Carl Levin represent Michigan in the House and Senate, respectively. The Republican Hutchinson brothers -- Tim in the Senate and Asa in the House -- represent Arkansas. Asa has just been nominated by President Bush to head the Drug Enforcement Administration.
The Udall family boasts two Democratic House members: Mark from Colorado and Tom from New Mexico. Their cousin is Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore. Rep. Brian Kerns, a Republican from Indiana, now has the seat held almost 30 years by his father-in-law, former congressman John Myers.
The list of legacies doesn't include widows of former members of Congress, such as Rep. Mary Bono, R-Calif., or Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, R-Mo. It doesn't include Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., whose husband has a few political credentials. It doesn't include the dozens of other members whose fathers were governors, such as Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H.; or mayor, such as Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu from New Orleans; or state chief justice, such as Sen. Jim Jeffords, R-Vt.; or White House chief of staff, such as New Hampshire Rep. John Sununu, a Republican.
Congress might seem like one big family reunion, but the truth is that dynasties probably dominate less than they did in the 1800s and early 1900s, although there are no statistics, says Betty Koed, assistant historian for the Senate.
''It was a much smaller country back then. There were fewer states to represent. Prominent families sent multiple members often serving simultaneously,'' Koed says. ''In the 19th century, politics as a profession really ran in families.''
One big change came in 1913, when senators began to be elected by popular vote rather than by state legislatures, where contacts and family connections had been vital.
Another change is that dynasties are no longer the realm of white, male old-money elite. There are black dynasties (the Ford family of Memphis) and Hispanic (the Gonzalez family of Texas). Several women, including Rep. Nancy Pelosi, have taken over parents' seats.
Gonzalez says the biggest benefit to following in his father's footsteps is that he understands his dad better.
''Now you understand why he did things and when he didn't do things and when he couldn't do things,'' Gonzalez says. ''You learn from it.'
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