Politics & Policy

The Corner

A Political Dynasty Grows in California

One of the signs of an unhealthy democracy is the constant emergence of family dynasties in politics. You need look no further than the fact that Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush are currently top contenders for president in 2016. A Bush or a Clinton has run for president in 1980, 1988, 1992 (when both families squared off against each other, as they may again next year), 1996, 2000, 2004, and 2008.

But dynasties also grow at the local level. Consider the wealthy Santa Barbara–based congressional district in California represented by Democrat Lois Capps. A former nurse, she won the seat in a special election in 1998 after her husband tragically died during his first term in Congress at age 63. Now Representative Capps is retiring, having reached the age of 77 and winning re-election last year by only four points against underfunded GOP candidate Chris Mitchum (himself the son of the late actor Robert Mitchum).

Republicans appear to have a lively and diverse set of candidates set to run, but insiders say the Democratic nomination is all but wrapped up. Everyone expects Laura Capps, the 42-year-old daughter of Lois, to be the Democratic candidate. She started her career in the Clinton White House as a speechwriter and went on to become Ted Kennedy’s communications director. After nearly 20 years in Washington, she suddenly decided to move back to Santa Barbara earlier this year, presumably to reactivate local roots for a congressional campaign. She will benefit from the private advice of Bill Burton, her husband and former national press secretary for Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign.

“Whatever Laura does, she does amazingly  — we’ll just have to wait and see what the next amazing thing is,” Burton told the Santa Barbara Independent this month. I can sense the building of another political dynasty, and that Laura Capps will be trying to make a round-trip return to Washington next year — trying to replace her mother. And they wonder why voters are becoming ever more cynical. 

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