Over the last few years, the alleged dynastic nature of the Bush family—which boasts two presidents and a Florida governor—has gotten lots of media attention. “[George W. H. Bush and George W. Bush] are not separate Presidencies. I think you have to conceive of these people as a family that has been moving towards this objective for a long time,” Kevin Phillips, author of American Dynasty told National Public Radio radio host Bob Edwards in 2004. “Politicians always take care of their friends. The difficulty here is if you’ve got a family that’s been in very high levels of power for four generations, or so. You have a lot more friends to take care of and it becomes part of our political process,” Phillips said about the Bush family.
However, a new report released by Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform (ATR) reveals that American political nepotism extends not just through the executive branch, but throughout Congress. The report showed that of the 535 Congressional seats (Senators and Representatives), 50 Members had relatives who served as Senators, Representatives, or Governors.
The ATR report identified 15 members, 13 from the House and 2 from the Senate, who gained their seats immediately following their relatives’ resignation, retirement, or death. Of these “legacy” Congressional seats:
• Four seats were inherited by widows
• Eight seats are inherited by sons
• Two seats are inherited by daughters
• One seat is held by the former member’s brother.
One notable “legacy seat” holder is Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA), whose brother, John F. Kennedy also served as a Massachusetts Senator between 1953 and 1960. JFK later moved onto the Presidency, establishing his brother, Robert Kennedy, as Attorney General. The Kennedy family has benefited from extensive political connections, and Robert Kennedy later won a Senate seat. Robert Kennedy was fatally shot on June 5, 1968 after winning the California Democratic Presidential primary. Senator Edward Kennedy’s son, Patrick Kennedy, currently serves as Congressman for the Rhode Island 1st District, one of only two districts in the state.
The report exposed a considerable difference in nepotism between parties. Democrats held 32 of the identified seats (10 “legacy seats,” and 22 “indirect” seats) whereas Republicans held 18 of these seats (5 “legacy seats” and 13 “indirect” seats).
Of the 26 states identified in the report, California, Florida, Michigan, Missouri, and Colorado all had abnormally high levels of nepotism.
• California has 7 seats (6 Representatives, 1 Senator) held by politicians related to former (or current) Senators, Congressmen, or Governors. The Sanchez sisters, Representative Linda Sanchez (D-CA) and Representative Loretta Sanchez (D-CA), both currently serve in the House.
• Florida has a 20% nepotism concentration among its U.S. House members, with 5 of its 25 districts represented by legacy-seat holders or relatives of former politicians.
• Two Michigan Representatives and Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) hold nepotistic seats. Michigan has 15 districts.
• Missouri has a 33.3% nepotism ratio for its U.S. House of Representatives members (3 of 9 Representatives).
• In Colorado, 2 of the state’s 7 federal Representatives and Senator Ken Salazar (D-CO) have benefited from familial political ties. More notably, Senator Ken Salazar (D-CO) and Representative John Salazar (D-CO) are not only brothers, but they both were elected during the 2004 election cycle.
Bethany Stotts is a Staff Writer at Accuracy in Academia.