Political dynasties don’t belong in our democracy

Zachary Price

With the incumbent off running for Congress, the race for Texas’ District 8 state Senate seat appears that it will come down between Phillip Huffines and Angela Paxton. Both of those names should sound familiar to you — Huffines is the twin brother of sitting Texas Sen. Don Huffines, and Paxton is the wife of Attorney General Ken Paxton. Most galling about this is that both of their famous family members have made headlines for all the wrong reasons. 

Don Huffines earned notoriety this February for screaming at a group of schoolchildren who questioned him on school choice legislation. Attorney General Paxton, who is the former senator for the Eighth District, has been fighting fraud charges for the last three years. Those are troubling records, especially given that neither candidate is doing much to distance themselves from their famous kin. This is just the latest example, and perhaps one of the most egregious, of a troubling trend in American politics: the pervasiveness of established political families.

In every presidential election since 1980, except for one brief respite in 2012, either a Bush or a Clinton has appeared on the ballot. While many people viewed the election of Donald Trump as a challenge to the political orthodoxy, it’s hard not to see it as a strong rebuke of the two biggest families in politics as well. 

Jeb Bush was the Republican frontrunner for a large chunk of the campaign, but finished fourth in South Carolina before dropping out of the race altogether. Much of Bush’s support waned as Trump made him look weak with personal attacks on the debate stage. Bush also faced questions about his brother’s policies, including his decision to enter the Iraq War and sign the No Child Left Behind act into law. 

In the general election, Hillary Clinton was seen as a strong favorite to win for the vast majority of the campaign. She received criticism from both sides throughout the campaign on issues as varied as her husband’s treatment of African Americans to his extramarital affairs. In the 2016 election, both of these political dynasties proved that they lack the firepower to actually win an important race. So why do we keep nominating them? If a candidate’s only redeeming quality is that people know their name, they clearly shouldn’t be running for office.

It’s clear that coming from a well-known political family helps you garner name recognition. There is no evidence, however, that coming from a powerful political family makes a person any better at governing. In fact, recent evidence shows that the opposite is true. George W. Bush, who largely built his brand off of his father’s good will in the state of Texas, left office with a staggeringly low 34 percent approval rating. Now, his nephew, Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush, faces criticism for his hiring practices, among other things. Would he be where he is if his last name wasn’t Bush?

The preponderance of elected officials’ relatives running for public office also raises troubling ethical questions. Want to bribe Ken Paxton but afraid of breaking the law? Why not just donate to his wife’s campaign? What you’ve done is completely legal, and if she’s successful, you’ve just bought two politicians for the price of one.

After the wholesale embarrassment of the major political families in the 2016 election, it seemed that we might finally be free of what was starting to feel like an oligarchical system of government. Instead, the state of Texas seems determined to drudge up the same familiar names. The solution from here is clear: Don’t let these people continue to concentrate power. Instead, use your vote on fresh faces with exciting new ideas, not the next Bush, Clinton or Paxton that happens their way onto your ballot. 

Price is a sophomore government major from Austin. You can follow him on Twitter @price_zach.