What's in a name? It could be the mother lode of political gold


Ever notice how many offspring of successful politicians (mostly sons) appear to be taking up where their Old Men left off? Indiana Senator Evan Bayh holds the seat his father, Birch Bayh, long occupied. Connecticut’s Chris Dodd also followed his father, Thomas Dodd to the senate. Of course there’s Al Gore, son of a Tennessee senator, he held his father’s seat before becoming vice president in 1993. Now Jimmy Carter’s son, Jack, is running for the senate in Nevada. If successful, he’ll probably be visiting his dad’s Granite State friends in time for the next Primary. Then there are the dynasties: The Kennedys and the Bushes, families in which holding public office appears to be a biological imperative.

What about New Hampshire, a friend asked recently, have we political dynasties here?

Maybe not dynasties…yet. But with three of only four congressional seats held by scions of very big names in state politics, there at the least appears to be interesting legacies at work.

Take senior senator Judd Gregg. His legendary father, Hugh, served as a popular governor in the 1950s and was a confidante to presidents and would-be presidents for over half a century. Gregg the younger, however, has held the Big Four: executive councilor, congressman, governor, and senator (now chairing the powerful senate banking committee). A local pundit has commented that if his name had been “Judd Jones” all this likely would not have happened. Maybe, but nobody is this successful without having unique skills to maintain the respect and confidence of voters for what’s been nearly 30 years now.

Then there’s six term Second District Congressman Charlie Bass,* whose father, Perkins, held the same seat in the 1950s. Bass is also the grandson of a governor, Robert P. Bass, a celebrated Progressive of the 1920s. But wait. Wasn’t Charlie defeated in his first bid for his dad’s old seat? It was 1980, and the winner was none other than Judd Gregg. That year it was the Clash of the Blue Bloods, which included Susan McLane, later a long-time state senator and wife of former Concord mayor and executive councilor, Malcom McLane (grandson of a former Governor). So having a name doesn’t mean it’s always easy.

Then there’s the state’s junior senator, former congressman John E. Sununu, son of the colorful former governor and White House Chief of Staff, John H. Sununu. But “John E.” won his first primary only by a hair. That leaves First District Congressman Jeb Bradley,* a Wolfeboro businessman and former state legislator, to be our Everyman, bootstrapping his way to Washington without a family name to ease the ride as did two predecessors, former Senator Bob Smith and Bill Zeliff.

But yikes, all these have children, as does former Governor Jeanne Shaheen and current Governor John Lynch. Former Congressman Dick Swett is the father of seven. The way things are going we could have generations of Basses, Greggs, Bradleys, Shaheens, Lynches, Swetts and Sununus on New Hampshire ballots well into the next century. Makes you wonder what’s in all this clean water we have in New Hampshire. Guess it’s not what’s in the water, it’s what’s in the DNA.

(*Note: Since this column was published, incumbent Republican Congressmen Charles Bass and Jeb Bradley were defeated for re-election on November 7, 2006, victims of Democratic landslide that appeared not only in New Hampshire, but around the nation. They were replaced by two "non-legacy" Democratic office-seekers. Perhaps change is afoot in New Hampshire politics.)

Dean Dexter is a former Belknap County Commissioner and state legislator, as were his grandfather and great-grandfather before him.

This story originally appeared as a "Capitol Offenses" column in the October, 2006 issue of New Hampshire Magazine.

Posted: December 28, 2006

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