Gubernatorial ‘Nepo Babies’
April 12, 2023 · 1:45 PM EDT
“I’m not a politician,” begins a recent fundraising email from Missouri gubernatorial candidate Jay Ashcroft. “I’m an engineer.”
Ashcroft may be an engineer, but as a two-term secretary of state, gubernatorial candidate, and former state Senate hopeful, he’s certainly a politician as well. And he’s vying now to join an even more exclusive group of politicians who follow in their parents’ footsteps; Ashcroft’s father, John Ashcroft, was governor of Missouri from 1985 to 1993 (and later a U.S. senator and attorney general).
Over the past month, Inside Elections has explored the family ties of America’s most prominent politicians. Inspired by New York magazine’s “Nepo Babies of Hollywood” cover story, we’ve cataloged the representatives and senators for whom politics is a family business.
But nepotism isn’t just a Washington phenomenon. From the Browns of California to the Cuomos of New York to the Folsoms of Alabama, governing can be a family affair at the state level, too.
The Direct Descendents
Three sitting governors have a parent who previously served as governor in the same state.
In Arkansas, newly elected Republican Sarah Huckabee Sanders is the daughter of former Gov. Mike Huckabee, who led the state from 1996 to 2007. The elder Huckabee also made two unsuccessful runs for president, in 2008 and 2016. Sanders’ mother, Janet Huckabee, was the GOP nominee for state Secretary of State in 2002. Sanders got her start in politics on her father’s campaigns, serving as his national political director in 2008 and campaign manager in 2016. She also managed John Boozman’s successful 2010 campaign for Senate in Arkansas and became a senior adviser to the Trump campaign in 2016 after her father dropped out, eventually becoming Trump’s second White House press secretary. Her 2022 bid for governor was her first run for office.
New Hampshire Republican Chris Sununu is the son of former Gov. John H. Sununu, who led the state from 1983-1989 and also served as White House chief of staff under George H. W. Bush. Chris Sununu also is the younger brother of former U.S. Sen. John E. Sununu, who represented New Hampshire in Washington from 2003 to 2009. Chris Sununu, now mulling a presidential bid, got his start in politics in 2010, when he was elected to the state’s Executive Council, and is in his fourth two-year term as governor.
And Kentucky Democrat Andy Beshear is the son of former Gov. Steve Beshear, the Bluegrass State’s chief executive from 2007 to 2015. The elder Beshear had a long career in Kentucky politics, including stints as a state legislator, attorney general, and lieutenant governor in the 1970s and 1980s; his father Orlando Beshear (Andy Beshear’s grandfather) was the mayor of their hometown of Dawson Springs. Prior to his own election as attorney general in 2015, Andy Beshear was a lawyer at the same firm where his father was a senior partner. The younger Beshear is now the last remaining statewide elected Democrat in Kentucky and faces a tough campaign later this year.
Several other sitting governors belong to families with deep political histories within their states.
California Democrat Gavin Newsom’s father, William Newsom, was a longtime judge on California’s state Court of Appeal in San Francisco, where Newsom was later elected mayor. The elder Newsom was also a financial advisor to the Getty family and an unsuccessful state Senate candidate. William Newsom credited his own connections with securing Gavin’s entrance to politics, telling SF Weekly in 2003 he leveraged his friendship with Democratic power broker John Burton to get Mayor Willie Brown to appoint Newsom to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1997. "It was based on Burton's friendship with me," Newsom told the magazine. "And he liked Gavin. Besides, they needed a straight white male on the board."
Georgia Republican Brian Kemp’s political roots extend back to the Colonial era, when his ancestor James Habersham was a royal official in the province of Georgia. Habersham’s sons, John and Joseph, both fought for independence in the Revolution; John later helped found the University of Georgia, and Joseph was appointed postmaster general by President George Washington. More recently, Kemp’s grandfather Julian Cox and father-in-law Bob Argo both served in the Georgia legislature.
In Louisiana, Democrat John Bel Edwards is a member of a political family that stretches back to before the founding of the Pelican State. Gov. Edwards’ great-great-great grandfather Daniel Edwards served in the short-lived Republic of West Florida legislature and later as a Louisiana state senator. The governor’s great-great grandfather, Nicholas Edwards, was a Confederate officer and state legislator. And his great-grandfather Millard Edwards, grandfather Frank Edwards Sr., and father Frank Edwards Jr. were all sheriffs of Tangipahoa County; his brother, Daniel Edwards, is the current sheriff.
Maine Democrat Janet Mills is the daughter of former U.S. Attorney for Maine Sumner Peter Mills, who served in that role under three presidents (Eisenhower, Nixon, and Ford) and also served a single term in the Maine state Senate from 1967 to 1969. The younger Mills’ older brother, Peter Mills, served in the state Senate from 1996 to 2010 and ran unsuccessfully for the GOP gubernatorial nomination in 2006 and 2010. Gov. Mills got her political start as a prosecutor, serving as the district attorney for Androscoggin, Franklin, and Oxford counties in 1980.
In Michigan, Democrat Gretchen Whitmer is the daughter of Richard Whitmer, who led the state’s Department of Commerce under GOP Gov. William Milliken. And her sister, Liz Gereghty, might look to expand the family’s political reach to the East Coast next year. Gereghty, a Board of Education trustee for the Katonah-Lewisboro school district in Westchester, New York, is considering a bid against GOP Rep. Mike Lawler in New York’s 17th District.
New Mexico Democrat Michelle Lujan Grisham is a member of a political family that includes her grandfather Eugene Lujan (a former state supreme court justice) and a bevy of distant cousins including Manuel Lujan Sr. (a former mayor of Santa Fe) and Manuel Lujan Jr. (a former Republican congressman and Secretary of the Interior), as well as former state House speaker Ben Luján and his son, current U.S. Sen. Ben Ray Luján.
And Ohio Republican Mike DeWine may be on his way to beginning another political family — his son Pat DeWine currently holds a seat on the state Supreme Court.
Odds and Ends
Two other governors have leveraged their family wealth to further their own political success.
Illinois Democrat J.B. Pritzker is a member of the prominent Pritzker family, one of the wealthiest families in America and best known for its ownership of the Hyatt hotel chain. Pritzker’s sister, Penny Pritzker, served as Secretary of Commerce under President Barack Obama. J.B. Pritzker has leaned heavily on his family fortune in his two runs for governor, spending a combined $350 million on his races and to boost other Democrats, including cutting a $27 million check to the Democratic Governors Association last year.
Connecticut Democrat Ned Lamont has an august pedigree as well. His great-grandfather Thomas Lamont was the chairman of JP Morgan and onetime publisher of the New York Post who also served as an advisor to Presidents Wilson, Hoover, and Roosevelt, and was an American representative to the Paris peace conference that ended World War I. Lamont’s wealth has played a major role in his political campaigns; he spent $17 million in his unsuccessful bid for Senate in 2006, $16 million on his run for governor in 2018, and $26 million on his successful re-election bid last year.
Missouri’s Ashcroft isn’t the only political scion looking to continue the family tradition next year.
In West Virginia, Moore Capito, the son of Sen. Shelley Moore Capito and the grandson of former Gov. Arch Moore, is running for governor. One of his opponents is Chris Miller, whose mother Carol Miller and grandfather Samuel Devine have both served in Congress. Another is Secretary of State Mac Warner, whose older brothers include former U.S. Attorney Kasey Warner, former state GOP chairman Kris Warner, and 2004 GOP gubernatorial nominee Monty Warner.
And in Montana, Whitney Williams is a potential candidate to take on GOP Gov. Greg Gianforte. Williams’ father Pat was Montana’s congressman for two decades, and her mother Carol was the state Senate majority leader.
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