Saturday, March 26, 2005

Do the Smiths and Joneses Stand a Chance Against American Royalty?

It's been a few days since I last wrote about the impending race for Congressman Rob Portman's second congressional district seat. Portman will soon be vacating his post to take a spot in President Bush's administration, as US fair trade representative.

Several probable frontrunners have taken themselves out of the race. Phil Heimlich is to be the candidate for lieutenant governor on the ticket with Ohio's attorney general, Jim Petro, when the latter runs for governor in 2006. Former state senator and one-time state senate president, Doug White, currently a member of Ohio Governor Bob Taft's administration, has opted out of the special congressional election.

Several others are looking at it. But we suddenly have two frontrunners. One is Hamilton County commissioner, Pat DeWine, son of Ohio's senior senator, Mike DeWine.

The other, we now have learned, is one of DeWine's law partners, Bill Keating, Jr., whose father, one-time publisher of the Cincinnati Enquirer, formerly served in Congress, in this very seat. Keating has never run for or served in political office.

Keating and DeWine may in fact be qualified for this post. Each may do a great job if elected.

But one can't help but wonder if either of them would get a second look if their last names were Smith or Jones or if they didn't have money or connections to money.

Sometimes, it seems we are ruled by royalty in America, right down to the local level.

Here in southwestern Ohio, for example, Cincinnati has a Democratic mayor named Luken whose father was a congressman and major political figure.

Ohio's governor comes from a venerable Cincinnati family of Republicans, the Tafts. The current governor is the great-grandson of a President (also a Supreme Court Chief Justice); grandson of a Republican Senate leader and presidential candidate; and son of a former at-large congressman and Senator.

At the national level, our President is the grandson of a Senator and the son of a President. In the 2000 election campaign, he was pitted against the son of a Senator. In the most recent election, his opponent was able to tap into some of the fortune left behind by his wife's first husband, scion of the Heinz family fortune and a Senator himself.

Again, nothing says that these people with politically famous or otherwise prominent names lack qualifications for public office. It's very likely that political affairs and public policy were topics of discussion in their homes as they were growing up. They were raised with politics as a core topic of conversation and so, politics may come more naturally to them than to others. Because of their family backgrounds, they may have thought about public affairs more than the rest of us.

But from time to time, it would be nice to see a few Smiths and Joneses without political names or lots of cash get a shot at serving in Congress. It might even be good for the country.

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