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The Next Senator From New York

I’m not a New Yorker.  This post is about sticking my nose in someone else’s business.  That said, this is just an opinion, and Governor Paterson is free to disregard it; he doesn’t even have to worry about me voting against him.

My mother asked me last week about what I thought of Caroline Kennedy as Senator.  I went on a rant, and we moved on to another topic.  The discussion wasn’t over.  She sent an email today: “17% of elected federal officeholders have relatives who are also elected officials.   Doctors beget a high proportion of doctors.  Lawyers beget a high proportion of lawyers.  Plumbers. . . Teachers. . . You are an elected official who has a multigenerational history of elected officials.”

It was an interesting argument, but it didn’t persuade me.   The problem with that statistic is that it doesn’t talk about cause and effect. 

  • If your family has a large number of doctors, should you start diagnosing people without medical school? 
  • If your family has a large number of lawyers, should you be admitted to the bar without going to law school? 

I’m an elected official, and I readily admit I am one because of my family history.  But was I awarded my position because of my family history?  Absolutely not.  I went out, met voters, and convinced them to vote for me.  Families guide careers, but they don’t qualify you for that career. 

For the sake of argument I’m willing to grant that Caroline Kennedy is a nice person who has lead a life worthy of admiration and respect.  But she is not being considered for the Senate seat because of her life. She’s being considered because of her family.  It’s title by family. It’s royalty. If you took her resume and changed the name to “Caroline Dunn,” would she be considered the front runner?

If Paterson really wants the best person for the job, he should find some academic, or a non-profit exec, or a political chief-of-staff, someone with a track record of a clear head, good organizer, nice person, and a rock-solid sense of right and wrong.

Love you, mom, but we need smart, hard-working, ethical people in the Senate.  We need more than a popular surname.


Comment from Josh
Time: December 22, 2008, 2:15 pm

When you add this to the Illinois senate debacle, it seems time to have special elections to fill vacant Senate seats. Special elections are not cheap, but governors seem to be failing the public and not picking serious, qualified people to be senators.

I also think governors shouldn’t be allowed to resign with lots of time left in their term for another government position. Unless a special election is called for their vacant seat, too.

Comment from dunster
Time: December 22, 2008, 10:30 pm

I’m not convinced that either of you suggestions would actually make the situation any better. I’ll retreat to my favorite solutions: 1) make government smaller (less government means less corruption) and 2) we need a more open election system than the D/R system we have now. I don’t like either party, but I’m stuck.

Comment from Liebs
Time: December 23, 2008, 10:55 pm

Dan, Caroline Kennedy is a Harvard and Columbia Law grad, member of the bar in NY and DC, and has served on the boards of several non-profits and been involved in civil rights and education issues. Are there more qualified candidates? Maybe, but she and her cousin Robert would be at the top of my list if I were choosing. Has their lineage opened doors for them? Probably. But in their case, I think it has also pushed them to excel to live up to their name.

Comment from dunster
Time: December 24, 2008, 1:53 pm

Liebs, it’s the undeserved door-opening that gets me. It strikes at my idealistic, egalitarian heart.

Here’s a thought experiment: Paterson has each candidate fill out an application (resume, essays, etc.). One of his aides strips out all references to name, race, gender, etc. and then Paterson reads them. If he picks Caroline Kennedy, great, she’s the right one for the job! If he doesn’t, great, he’s got the right one for the job!

The fact of the matter is that the only reason she’s being considered as a serious contender is her name.

Comment from AMR
Time: December 30, 2008, 11:04 am

Every electoral system has its advantages and weaknesses. Check the US Senate’s history page on direct elections__ I love the part about the “scathing” investigation of stolen legislative elections from that famous muckracking publication “Cosmopolitan”!