Blogs > Ronald L. Feinman > Famous Parent-Child Pairs in the Senate-Part II: The Democrats

Sep 26, 2021

Famous Parent-Child Pairs in the Senate-Part II: The Democrats

tags: Senate,political history

The family of Huey Long. Son Russell Long is next to his father. 

Ronald L. Feinman is the author of  Assassinations, Threats, and the American Presidency: From Andrew Jackson to Barack Obama (Rowman Littlefield Publishers, 2015).  A paperback edition is now available.

This second article examines the four significant cases of fathers and children serving in the US Senate who were members of the Democratic Party, following up on the earlier article on the four cases who were members of the Republican Party.

Huey P. Long (1893-1935) and his son Russell B. Long (1918-2003) both served the state of Louisiana in the US Senate as members of the Democratic Party, with Huey Long serving close to four years before his assassination, and his son Russell Long serving 38 years, as an extremely influential leader in the Senate. So together, the Longs served 42 years in the Senate.

Huey Long (1932-1935) served as Governor of Louisiana before his election to the Senate, and became, in his brief time in the Senate, a highly controversial and influential figure, seen as a potential future Presidential candidate, who might have even challenged Franklin D. Roosevelt.  Long was a populist member of the Democratic Party, vocally critical of Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal as not radical enough.  He had a wide following in Louisiana and the nation, seen by many as the spokesman for the poor, but as a fascist demagogue by many other observers.

 Going by the nickname “The Kingfish,” Long promoted the “Share Our Wealth” philosophy, advocating massive federal spending, a wealth tax, and wealth redistribution.  As Governor of Louisiana from 1928-1932, he expanded social programs, and organized massive public works projects in his traditionally poor state.  His aggressive tactics, however, led to him being considered the virtual dictator of the state.  He had established a powerful political machine, and basically was acting as absentee Governor while rabble rousing in the US Senate, to the point that he was seen as a menace to Senate order. 

FDR saw Long as a political threat, and promoted a “Second New Deal” beginning in 1935, incorporating Long’s ideas even after Long’s tragic assassination. Long had gone on a national speaking tour during 1935 and made regular radio appearances, with large crowds attending his rallies.  Over seven million people were members of “Share Our Wealth” clubs across the nation.  After assassination at the Louisiana state capitol in September 1935 (discussed in Chapter 7 of my “Assassinations” book), other family members served in elected office in Louisiana, most notably his son Russell Long, when he reached the minimum age of 30 to serve in the Senate at the end of 1948.

Russell B. Long (1948-1987) was elected to the Senate shortly after his 30th birthday, making him one of the youngest Senators in American history, and served 38 years in the upper chamber.  He would play a highly significant role as Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee (1966-1981) during President Lyndon B. Johnson’s “Great Society” and on through the Nixon, Ford, and Carter Administrations, and also was Senate Majority Whip from 1965-1969.  He played a major role in improving the lives of the elderly, the disabled, the poor, and the middle class, as he shaped the tax legislation related to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, unemployment insurance, welfare and food assistance programs, foreign trade, and tariffs.  He was highly respected by his colleagues for his debating skills and his effectiveness as a committee chairman.  He was the author of the earned income tax credit, the establishment of the employee stock ownership plans, and the Presidential Election fund allowing taxpayers to contribute to presidential campaigns. 

Despite these accomplishments, Long was a Southerner resistant to civil rights, and was judged middling in his views on business and labor, not fully pleasing either economic group.  While he supported basic tenets of the “New Deal,” the ”Fair Deal,” the “New Frontier,” and the “Great Society,” Long signed the Southern Manifesto in 1956 in opposition to the Supreme Court decision outlawing segregation in public schools in Brown V. Board of Education (1954).  Later, he repudiated the manifesto, and supported Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty, environmental, and education laws, and backed the Immigration Act of 1965.  He supported ending the poll tax, and backed the extensions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, after originally being against the legislation.  He also was one of a dozen Southern Democratic senators who voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and therefore, did not attend the Democratic National Convention that year. He nevertheless became a major backer of  Johnson after the election.  He was also the first Southern senator to hire black staff members in modern times, so he helped to usher in change despite resistance from his white constituency.  And he always gained strong support from African Americans, once they had the right to vote after 1965.  Russell Long certainly had a major impact in his 38 year Senate career, after the abbreviated three and a half years of his father in the Senate.

Harry F. Byrd, Sr. (1887-1966) and his son, Harry F. Byrd, Jr. (1914-2013) both served Virginia as Democrats, although Byrd, Jr. became an Independent who caucused with the Democratic Party for the remainder of his time in the Senate, after winning his father’s seat in a special election, following the elder Byrd’s death. Together, they served a total of about 50 years in the Senate.

Harry F. Byrd, Sr. (1933-1965) spent 32 years in the Senate after having been Governor of Virginia from 1926-1930, and established a powerful political machine (The Byrd Organization) which prevailed through his time and that of his son in the Senate.  He had also been a newspaper publisher with great influence in the Commonwealth of Virginia.  He personified the “Conservative Coalition” of Southerners who opposed the goals of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry Truman, John F. Kennedy, and Lyndon B. Johnson.  He promoted racial segregation in the public schools, and was a leader of the “Massive Resistance” in the South to the Supreme Court decision in Brown V. Board of Education (1954).  He also prevented African Americans from voting by methods including poll taxes and literacy tests, and was clearly a racist and white supremacist without any apologies. 

Despite his reputation, his seniority led Byrd Sr. to serve on the Senate Armed Services Committee, and to be the Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.  He refused to support Harry Truman in 1948 or Democratic Presidential nominee Adlai Stevenson in 1952, and voted against public works bills, including President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Interstate Highway legislation in the mid 1950s.  As a rebel, he received 15 electoral votes taken from John F. Kennedy by state electors in Mississippi, Alabama, and Oklahoma, in 1960, making the election closer than it might have been.  His main positive legacy was public works in his state, including Shenandoah National Park, and the Virginia state park system.  But his legacy of discrimination remains part of the historical record, including shutting down public schools to avoid integration in the late 1950s, in defiance of federal law.

Harry F. Byrd, Jr, (1965-1983), a newspaper publisher like his father, was a Virginia State Senator from 1948-1965, succeeded his father in a special election to finish his late father’s term, and then was elected to two full terms for a total of 18 years of Senate service.  He saw the decline of the “Byrd Organization” in his first years in the Senate, and left the Democratic Party in 1970, serving his two full terms as an independent.  The policy of “Massive Resistance” was eventually overcome in the courts, but he resisted change, and was the first Independent to be elected to the Senate by a majority of the popular vote, despite having a Democratic and Republican opponent in his two full-term elections.  He continued to caucus with the Democratic Party in the Senate, however, and was allowed to keep his seniority. The younger Byrd continued the very conservative voting record of his father, including strict fiscal discipline on government spending, and like his father, he served on the Finance and Armed Services Committees.  He lived on past the age of 98, making him the 8th longest-lived Senator in American history.  But like his father, he stood in the way of progress and change.

Albert Gore Sr. (1907-1998) and his son Albert Gore, Jr. (1948-) both served Tennessee as members of the Democratic Party, with Gore Sr. serving 18 years in the US Senate after 14 years in the US House of Representatives, and Gore Jr. serving 8 years in the US Senate after having served 8 years in the House. Then, Gore Jr. served as the 45th Vice President of the United States from 1993-2001, and was the Democratic Presidential nominee in 2000, winning the national popular vote, but losing the Electoral College after a disputed vote count in the state of Florida. Thirty-six days went by before the Supreme Court settled the issue in Bush V. Gore in December 2000. Together, the two Gores served a total of 26 years in the US Senate.

Albert Gore, Sr. (1953-1971) was one of three Southern Senators to refuse to sign the Southern Manifesto in 1956.  He proceeded to vote for the Civil Rights Acts of 1957 and 1960, as well as the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the confirmation of Thurgood Marshall to the Supreme Court in 1967, and the Civil Rights Act of 1968.  However, he voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1964, looking to protect his reelection prospects. 

With Tennessee moving toward the Republican Party, he lost his seat in 1970, due to the determined support of President Richard Nixon for his Republican opponent.  He became a victim of Nixon and Vice President Spiro Agnew’s “Southern Strategy”. Gore Sr.’s opposition to Nixon’s appointments of Clement Haynesworth and G. Harold Carswell to the Supreme Court, his opposition to the Vietnam War, and his vote against an amendment promoting prayer in public schools aroused strong opposition in Tennessee. Vice President Spiro Agnew’s campaign swing for Republican opponent William Brock included his description of Gore as the “Southern regional chairman of the Eastern Liberal Establishment.” 

Gore had supported the development of the interstate highway system under Dwight D. Eisenhower, backed many of the “Great Society” programs of Lyndon B. Johnson, promoted Medicare, was a clear critic of Nixon’s Vietnam War policy, and supported a partial nuclear test ban treaty.  Gore Sr. lived on to nearly the age of 91, keeping his reputation as one of just a few Southern Democratic “liberals” in the Senate of his time.

Albert Gore Jr. (1985-1993) (better known as “Al Gore”), brought the Gore name back to Tennessee politics six years after his father’s retirement from the Senate. He won the House seat in 1976 that his father had once held, and in 1984, succeeded Republican Senator Howard Baker. He launched an unsuccessful presidential campaign 1988, as one of the three leading contenders with Michael Dukakis and Jesse Jackson.  He gained a reputation as a moderate Democrat, since he came from a traditional Southern state still tending more toward Republicans.  He took an interest in the development of the internet, which he termed the “information superhighway” and helped to author the first legislation on that topic.  He also grew to have great interest in the environment and held hearings on toxic waste, climate change, and global warming.  He served on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Rules and Administration Committee, and the Armed Services Committee, and was one of ten Democrats in the Senate to support the Gulf War of 1991, under President George H. W. Bush.  He voted against the nomination of Associate Justice William Rehnquist to be Chief Justice, and also voted against Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas for appointments as Associate Justices of the Supreme Court.

Gore was a critic of gay rights, against a ban of interstate sale of guns, against federal funding of abortion, and supported a moment of silence in public schools to replace outlawed school prayer.  His moderate to conservative stance transitioned toward a more liberal view as he sought the presidency in 1988, and although he did not run in 1992, due to his son’s recovery from an accident, he accepted the vice presidential nomination that Bill Clinton offered to him.  He played a major role on many issues as vice president for eight years, particularly on environmental and technology issues. It was believed that the Clinton-Gore team was the second closest association of a President and Vice President, only topped by Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale, though some suspected a rivalry between First Lady Hillary Clinton and Gore. 

When Bill Clinton became enmeshed in the Monica Lewinsky scandal, it led to an awkward time. Gore visited former President Gerald Ford, claiming it was a social call reflecting his father’s close ties to Ford. But observers believed he was asking Ford for advice on how to handle the impeachment scandal, as Ford had skillfully done with Richard Nixon a quarter century earlier.

Once Gore became the Democratic presidential nominee in 2000, the strain between the President and Vice President grew, and Gore decided not to have Clinton campaign as much as the President was volunteering to do. After the contested election defeat to George W. Bush, there was bad blood between the two, fed the Clintons’ belief that a more active role for Bill Clinton the campaign might have helped Gore to victory.  Gore never attempted to run again for president, although it was often rumored that he might, and instead became both famous and controversial for his environmental activism, which included the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007, an Academy Award for his documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” the same year, and his constant commitment to the Climate Change and Global Warming movement, for which he has been much criticized by many.

Birch Bayh (1928-2019) and his son Evan Bayh (1955-    ) both served Indiana as members of the Democratic Party, with Birch Bayh serving 18 years, and Evan Bayh serving 12 years for a total of 30 years of service between them in the US Senate.

Birch Bayh (1963-1981) spent 18 years in the US Senate after eight years in the Indiana state legislature, where he was the youngest Speaker of the state house in Indiana history at age 30, first coming to the Senate at age 34.  He hit the ground running, working to promote two constitutional amendments very rapidly, making him the only person outside of the founding generation to have authored two such amendments.  The 25th Amendment, providing for an orderly transition of power in case of death, disability, or resignation of the President was promoted by Bayh, and was passed by Congress in 1965, and ratified by 1967. It played an historic role, guiding the appointment to the vice presidency of Gerald Ford and Nelson Rockefeller, and the succession of Ford to the Presidency upon the resignation of Richard Nixon in 1974.  The 26th Amendment, giving young Americans 18-21 years of age the right to vote was passed through Congress, and rapidly ratified within months in 1971. Bayh also led attempts to promote the Equal Rights Amendment for women, and the elimination of the Electoral College.  Had the latter worked out, it would have changed American history, preventing popular vote losers George W. Bush and Donald Trump from becoming White House residents.

Bayh was an extremely creative legislator, as he also authored Title 9 of the Higher Education Act in 1972 when the original 1965 law was up for renewal, banning gender discrimination in higher education institutions that receive federal funding. He also wrote the Juvenile Justice And Delinquency Prevention Act, promoting federal protection in the care and treatment of youth in the juvenile justice and criminal justice systems.  Bayh also supported the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1968, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the appointment of Thurgood Marshall to the Supreme Court.  He led the fight against Richard Nixon’s Supreme Court nominees Clement Haynesworth and G. Harold Carswell, but backed the appointments of Harry Blackmun and Lewis Powell to the high court.  Bayh was added to Nixon’s enemies list, which was later revealed during the Watergate investigations. 

Bayh tried for the Democratic Presidential nomination in 1976, but failed to gain any traction.  He had always had to fight hard for his three Senate election victories, as Indiana was a traditional Republican state.  Two of his opponents for reelection were very substantial; William Ruckelshaus later became the first head of the Environmental Protection Agency, and Richard Lugar, later served six distinguished terms in the Senate and was an expert on foreign policy.  In the sweeping victory of Ronald Reagan in 1980, Bayh lost his seat to the undistinguished Dan Quayle, who went on to serve as Vice President for one term under President George H. W. Bush.  So Bayh’s public career ended at age 53, but he continued to lobby for the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, until his death in 2019 at age 91.

Evan Bayh was actually named after his father, but used his middle name of Evans without the “s”. The younger Bayh spent 12 years in the US Senate from 1999 to 2011, after being elected Indiana Secretary of State at age 31 in 1986, and as governor two years later. After two four-year terms as governor of the state, he had a very high public opinion rating as he left office, but was ineligible under Indiana’s term limit law to run for a third consecutive term.  Two years out of office, he was elected to the Senate in 1998.  He became a notable figure in the Senate over the next twelve years, although his voting record put him in the more moderate camp in the Democratic Party, in comparison to his father.   He won his two Senate elections by massive margins of 64 percent in 1998 and 62 percent in 2004.  He published his autobiography in 2003, entitled From Father To Son: A Private Life In The Public Eye.

The younger Bayh, following his moderate Democratic stance, was Chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council from 2001-2005, a member of the Senate Centrist Coalition, and a founder of the New Democrat Coalition and the Moderate Dems Working Group. He also served on the Board of Directors of the National Endowment For Democracy, a government agency with the stated goal of promoting democracy abroad. Bayh was a strong supporter of the Iraq War Resolution in 2002, and voted to reauthorize the Patriot Act in 2006, despite its controversial nature.  He joined with many senators to endorse the bailout of US financial institutions in the aftermath of the Financial Crisis of 2007-2009, highly criticized by many as catering to the elite on Wall Street. 

Bayh stunned many when he withdrew from reelection a day before the deadline in 2019, so no Democrat could announce, and one had to be chosen by the Democratic state party committee.  He also drew criticism for having over four dozen meetings with potential corporate employers in his last year in office, and raising potential conflict of interest concerns.  The fact that his wife had a corporate career also brought up issues of conflict of interest.  Additionally, his committee assignments in the Senate included Armed Services; Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs; Energy and Natural Resources; as well as the Select Committee on Intelligence.  So Bayh had a reputation of being seen by some as more Republican than Democratic. 

Once he left the Senate, he was a part-time contributor for four years on Fox News Channel, which turned heads, and was a messaging advisor to the US Chamber of Commerce.  Bayh explored the idea of running for President in 2008, but later endorsed Hillary Clinton in her race against Barack Obama.  Rumors had it that he was on the short list to be Vice President under Obama, but Obama denied such assertions in his 2020 memoir, A Promised Land.  Bayh tried a comeback to the Senate in 2016, but lost to Todd Young by ten percentage points, 52-42, his first ever defeat in a state where he had previously been seen as unbeatable.

Evaluating fathers and sons among these four Democratic families, it could be said that Russell Long and Al Gore, Jr, were more significant historically than their fathers, while Harry Byrd Sr. and Birch Bayh stand out as more influential and significant than their sons.  So the historical rivalry of a father and son seems to be a balancing act, with some cases the parent, and some cases, the child, being more historically memorable.

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