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Legislative Dynasties Becoming More Common
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Published 2 years ago on
February 9, 2022

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It’s common for authoritarian regimes to evolve into oligarchies with those in command bequeathing their positions to family members.

The extreme example is the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea, otherwise known as North Korea, which is anything but democratic. Three generations of one family have ruled the nation for more than seven decades, ever since the Korean peninsula was divided into two nations in 1948 after many decades of Japanese control.

Family Ties Increasingly Determine Legislative Seats

Kim Il-sung was the nation’s dictator until his death in 1994, and the scepter then passed to his son, Kim Jong-il and later to his grandson, Kim Jong-un.

Dan Walters

CalMatters

Opinion

One of the most important outcomes of the American revolt against the British Empire was to abolish the notion of hereditary power. George Washington, in fact, rejected suggestions that he become king of the new nation.

This historical summary is offered because of an increasing tendency in the California Legislature for seats to be passed on to close relatives, essentially effectively denying voters the opportunity to choose their representatives.

Kate Karpilov, former director of the California Center for Research on Women and Families, did the research on the phenomenon and wrote about it for CalMatters, focusing on what’s happening in a state Senate district in Southern California’s San Fernando Valley.

Bob Hertzberg, a former speaker of the state Assembly who returned to the Legislature eight years ago after a stint in private business, is being forced out of the Senate by term limits and hopes to extend his political career this year by becoming a Los Angeles County supervisor.

Lack of Experience No Barrier

Hertzberg wants his son, Daniel, who works for a hotel as a business travel manager, to succeed him in the Senate and is tapping his network of powerful supporters to make that happen.

“There’s no board or commission service or local elected tenure,” Karpilov wrote of the younger Hertzberg. “No expertise building or managing a business, leading a local nonprofit or championing a neighborhood issue.

“Lacking relevant experience, Young Hertzberg’s campaign markets his enthusiasm and commitment ‘to fight day and night on behalf of working families.’ His campaign website and Twitter and Instagram accounts feature a pile-up of legislative and labor endorsements, secured in many instances, my sources tell me, by his father.

“How else could an untested, first-time candidate raise more than $500,000?”

How indeed? As Karpilov notes, having an influential politician as a father gives Daniel Hertzberg a leg up in competing with his fellow Democrat, Caroline Menjivar, for the seat.

The embryonic Hertzberg dynasty is not an isolated example, as Karpilov points out.

Fresno’s Arambula Family Among Current Dynasties

“The Arambulas, Burkes, Calderons, Canellas, Lowenthals, Mullins and Ridley-Thomases have also passed the political baton to a family member.

“Last year, Assemblymember Mia Bonta won the seat previously held by her husband, Attorney General Rob Bonta; Assemblymember Akilah Weber prevailed in a special election after Gov. Gavin Newsom appointed her mother, Shirley Weber, Secretary of State.”

There have been isolated instances of such political inheritances in years past, involving members of both parties. However, the practice has expanded in recent years, coincident with the Democrats’ achieving supermajorities in both legislative houses and competition between parties for legislative seats becoming virtually extinct.

It’s not a healthy condition. It severely limits the ability of voters to have legislators of their choosing because the anointed heirs have access to resources, particularly financing, that other candidates cannot muster.

Fundamentally, it’s a form of gerrymandering, the equally noxious practice of drawing legislative districts to favor a particular party, political faction or particular politician.

Unfortunately, it’s not illegal like gerrymandering, but it should be.

About the Author

Dan Walters has been a journalist for nearly 60 years, spending all but a few of those years working for California newspapers. He began his professional career in 1960, at age 16, at the Humboldt Times. For more columns by Walters, go to calmatters.org/commentary.

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