On Family Service: The Bigger the Brand, The Harder They Kick the Tires

The debate over family service in public life reaffirms my belief that vacancies should be filled as democratically as possible and that anyone in any generation of public service should run to fill them. U.S. Senate seats should have special elections just as U.S. House seats do. With advances in vote by mail and new media tools, costs for both election officials and candidates go down and public confidence in democracy goes up. Let the people decide.

That said, who should run? Anyone. As a third generation elected Democratic party official, I speak in favor of family service, and would hope that everyone interested in public life share that call with the next generation. In my four successful runs for California DNC member, voter reactions have ranged from "love your mom so I'll give you a chance" to "work twice as hard to prove you are qualified in your own right" to "I know you - you show up" to "your mom wouldn't impeach Bush so I'm not voting for you" - all of which are fair and provide me more - not less - incentive to perform well in my own right or be un-elected.

Now the stakes and the scrutiny are much higher for those in public office, but most Republicans and Democrats will tell you similar stories about their experiences running in the footsteps of their spouses, parents or other relatives. That is the trade-off: your name gives you a head start in attention needed to attract the best resources in management, message, money and mobilization, so it's only natural that people will want to be extra sure that you are running to DO something, not just to BE something. As I tell aspiring candidates in boot camp, "if you have a brand name, expect even tougher questions about your qualifications: the bigger the brand, the harder they kick the tires on your candidacy."

Whether there are appointments filled by elections or by appointees standing soon in special elections, we can rightly expect a rigorous debate over the various qualifications of potential candidates. So long as the debate is respectful, that's healthy for everyone involved. And in my native state of New York, whether it's Clinton or Cuomo or Kennedy, the voters kick the tires harder there than anywhere, all to the good of the candidates and to the democratic process.