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Politics

Bud Chiles Looks Set to Take On the Family Business

June 1, 2010 - 6:00pm

Bud Chiles, the son of Florida political legend and longtime U.S. Sen. and Gov. Lawton Chiles, is set to make announcement in Tallahassee on Thursday about his political future -- with rumors swirling that he intends to run for governor in the Democratic primary or, possibly, with no party affiliation.

If he does announce, Chiles will join an inordinately long line of politically strong families in recent years who have charmed Sunshine State voters into keeping the dynasty going:

  • Former Gov. Jeb Bush certainly profited from his fathers term in the White House.
  • State CFO Alex Sink, whom Bud Chiles may take on in the Democratic gubernatorial primary, is the wife of Bill McBride. McBride took on Bush in 2002.
  • Brothers Mario and Lincoln Diaz-Balart serve together in the U.S. Congress.
  • U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor is the daughter of longtime state Education Commissioner Betty Castor.
  • U.S. Rep. Connie Mack is the son of former U.S. Sen. Connie Mack.
  • U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek is the son of Carrie Meek -- and picked up her congressional seat when she retired.
  • U.S Rep. John Mica is the brother of former U.S. Rep. Dan Mica.
  • U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis took the place of his father Michael in Congress.
  • U.S. Rep. Ander Crenshaw is the son-in-law of former Gov. Claude Kirk.

The Florida Legislature contains many members whose families have been involved in politics. There is a Bullard in both the House and the Senate and Senate President Jeff Atwater, R-North Palm Beach, is a descendent of former Gov. Napoleon B. Broward. There are more than a few legislators whose spouses once held their seats. Ben Hill Griffins family includes former U.S. Rep. Katherine Harris and Sen. J.D. Alexander, R-Lake Wales.

But the phenomenon is not new. Florida has always been kind to political dynasties. Go through a list of Floridas officeholders and youll find familiar names.

Wilkinson Call was the nephew of two-time territorial Gov. Richard Keith Call and a longtime U.S. senator from Florida. A lawyer from Jacksonville who served in the Confederate army, Wilkinson Call was first elected to the U.S. Senate in December 1865 but was rejected by the federal government in one of the many electoral controversies in the first year of Reconstruction. One of the leaders of Floridas Democrats during Reconstruction, Call eventually won a seat to the U.S. Senate and served from 1879 until 1897.

The man who replaced Call was also a political scion. The son of one of Floridas first U.S. senators who also served as the Confederate Secretary of the Navy, Stephen Mallory II was an impressive figure in his own right. A Georgetown graduate, Mallory taught classics at his alma mater before heading down to New Orleans to practice law. Eventually he returned to Florida and worked his way up the political ladder. He won election to the Florida House in 1876 when the Democrats swept Reconstruction Republicans out of power and moved to the Florida Senate in 1880. In 1890, Mallory was elected to the U.S. Congress and moved up to U.S. Senate in 1897.

When Mallory died in 1907, William James Bryan, a Jacksonville lawyer, was appointed to replace him. Bryan passed away after serving in the U.S. Senate for only four months. His brother Nathan Bryan, who also practiced law in Jacksonville, was appointed to the U.S. Senate in 1911 and served a term as an ally of President Woodrow Wilson.

After William James Bryan passed away, yet another member of a political dynasty was appointed to the U.S. Senate. This time it was William Hall Milton, grandson of John Milton who served as governor during the Civil War and committed suicide as the Confederacy collapsed. The younger Milton was from Marianna and served as city clerk and treasurer of his hometown before a term in the Florida House, then service as U.S. surveyor general of the state and mayor of Marianna.

Miltons brief stint in the U.S. Senate was the highlight of a political career that lasted for six decades. While he served for years as U.S. commissioner for the northern district of Florida and even returned to local politics on the Marianna city council, Milton never quite followed in his grandfathers footsteps. He ran for governor in 1900 and 1912 and lost both times.

The list can go on. Ruth Bryan Owen, the first woman to represent Florida in Congress, was the daughter of three-time Democratic presidential nominee and Florida real estate proponent William Jennings Bryan. U.S Rep. Dwight Rogers and his son Paul represented Florida in Congress for 35 years.

While the state has changed a great deal over the decades, Florida voters have shown a distinct preference for electing familiar names to office -- something Bud Chiles will bet on if he decides to follow Walkin Lawtons footsteps.

Reach Kevin Derby at kderby@sunshinestatenews.com or at (850) 727-0859.

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