Bob Bennett, Chris Dodd, and Al Simpson enjoyed prominence in the Senate for many years. But all knew one another well before ascending to the upper chamber. The reason: their lineage, particularly that of their fathers. And while none of the three sons could fairly be called carbon copies of their sons, their attributes, personalities, and looks were close enough so that they can be one in the same.
Birch Bayh during that era would also have a son who would later serve in the body (his seat in fact). But it’s not clear that Evan, just seven when elected, knew his three future colleagues, as he was just 7. Simpson’s dad was elected that year but would serve in the body just four years.
The three Senators had been members of the body long before — Bennett for 24 years, Dodd for 12, and Simpson four. Bennett and Simpson would live to see their sons take office and pass away in 1993 at the age of 95, Dodd lost his father at a much younger age but still tries to keep his legacy alive. Other more recent Senators who have followed their fathers: Lisa Murkowski, and Mark Pryor.
Wallace Bennett ran the family paint business, Bennett Paint and Glass Company in Utah, which later became Bennett Enterprises. His business skills caught the eye of his peers, who eventually named him President of the National Association of Manufacturers. It was then that, at 52, that he decided to try his hand at politics. It was a U.S. Senate seat and he had to unseat a Democrat. But 1950 was a Truman mid-term, and he succeeded.
Throughout his tenure, Bennett was an accomodationalist. Even colleagues who didn’t vote with them very often said so. Frank Moss, a liberal Democrat who served alongside Bennett for most of his tenure called him “right straight up front with what he believed and didn’t believe,” And like his son, he legislated quietly.
As Bob played a leading role in remedying the Y2K crisis (his chief partner incidentally was Chris Dodd), Wallace was considered a go-to guy on business issues. Bob said his father “was known..for being an expert on business, tax law, the economy,” appropriate because by the time of his retirement, he had become ranking member on the Finance Committee. In fact, when he retired, someone said “I don’t know what we’ll do without him on the committee, because he was the only Senator that understood everything we were doing,”
And Wallace, like Bob, rarely sought the headlines, though sometimes, they couldn’t help but find him.
It was Bennett who introduced the Senate resolution to “censure” McCarthy. The Salt Lake Tribune said Bennett believed “the government should investigate “communists,” but that “investigations should avoid personalities and propaganda.”
Bennett was a right of center to Republican, but by no means hard core. He backed the Civil Rights Act. Robert Bennett emulated him, opposing a flag burning amendment and often giving Democrats key votes. Ironically, he would be denied a spot on the 2010 primary ballot because he finished third at the Utah State GOP Convention.
His legacy to Utah was his sponsorship of the Central Utah Project, which provided water to the state. His son said “he would never refuse to look at an idea that a Democrat was sponsoring.” Bob shared the same approach.
In the days that Utah was still a mildly competitive state, Bennett did not win by eyebrow raising margins. His 1962 election, which many thought he might lose, was won 52-48%. He won with just 54% ion 1968, as Nixon was passing 60%. He retired in 1974 at 76, looking at least 10 years younger.
And when his son captured his dad’s Senate seat in 1992, Wallace, though frail and in awheelchair, amde an appearance at the victory party. He told the crowd “Bob and I have made Utah history. We are the first father and son combination to be elected to the U.S. Senate in this state.”
Wallace Bennett suffered a fall in 1993 and died the next day. Bob said “the highest compliment someone pays me now is to say to me, `You’re just like your father.’”
The Senate was out of the session at that time but, when it returned, Al Simpson saluted his dad’s friend. “Mr. President, I was saddened to learn over the Christmas holidays that one of my father’s best friends, a man whom he was privileged to serve with in the Senate, a man of the West” passed away. His own father, the same age, had died just six months earlier.
Simpson’s father did not take to Senate life nearly the way Wallace Bennett did. He liked the rugged life of Wyoming and decided to return there after just four years in Washington. Simpson had been elected to fill the term of John Hickey, who had died. He had served as Governor of his state for four years in the 1950′s, winning his initial election by just 1,100 votes but losing a bid for a second term by fewer than 3,000.
Simpson voted against the the Civil Rights Act because he was worried that it might circumvent Wyoming’s, which he had signed into law as Governor.
In an oral history project, Milward Simpson was asked of a proposal that he made as Governor to buy the concessions of Yellowstone National Park. Wyoming, he said, was “constantly having the door slammed in it’s face” even though 90% of the park fell within it’s boundaries but, “all of the business goes into “the U and “I’ (Utah and Idaho). Simpson called a special session of the legislature and nearly everyone signed on to the proposal. He also told his department heads to be at the statehouse when matters relating to their department were up.
Al was elected to the Wyoming legislature in the midst of his father’s tenure as a Senator. It was his father who had notified him of Cliff Hansen’s decision in 1977 to not seek re-election (Al was traveling with his wife). While his father was not nearly as tall as Al (6’3) nor did he have his quick, acerbic wit, Al nonetheless looked to his father as a mentor when it came to what kind of a Senator he wanted to be. He said like “pop.”
In his eulogy to his dad, Al said “he left us a magnificent heritage, a proud, sturdy, and honest heritage. He was all the man there was. I had heard that phrased used about Vince Lombardi. It fit’s so beautifully. My father was all the man there was.”
Thomas Dodd was a strong vote-getter when he served. He had served two terms in the House when he narrowly lost to Prescott Bush in 1956, just as the state’s other leading Democrat, Abe Ribicoff had in 1952. Both made it to the Senate.
Dodd won the state’s second seat in 1958 by ousting incumbent William Purtell. Ribicoff took Bush’s seat when he retired. In 1967, Dodd was reprimanded by the Senate for an Ethics Committee Investigation that determined he had converted $6,000 cash for personal use. Addressing the Senate, he said in tears, I think a grave mistake has been made, and I am the one who must bear the scar of that mistake for the rest of my life,” Alcohol also seemed to play at least somewhat of a role.
In the Senate, Dodd focused on gun control and security issues. Specifically, he warned various administrations not to aid Fidel Castro. He chaired the Select Senate Committee on Juvenile Delinquency and castigated the television industry for violence on the air. One of the men who voted against Dodd’s censure was John Tower. When Tower’s nomination for Defense Secretary came before the Senate, the youinger Dodd remembered, and voted to support him. Dodd was denied the Democratic nomination but pursued a third term as an Independent. The 24% he received was credited with giving the election to Lowell Weicker. He said he wanted to run to give voters a say about his innocence guilt.
Dodd, a lawyer and FBI agent by trade, served in the FDR Justice Department and was credited with a role in the establishment of the Civil Rights division. as Connecticut’s Attorney General in the 1940′s where he was zealous about prosecuting the KKK, and also spent 15 months in Germany for the Nuremberg Trial, where he served on the helped prosecute.
The younger Dodd, who learned of his father’s reprimand two days later in Spain, said he had no one to commiserate with about it. In later years, he’d call it a “miscarriage of justice.” But when it came to re-opening the case. Not so fast.”I never wanted to go back and reopen all of that,” “My own view was that he was a person of strong views, deep convictions, strong values, and I thought that he got a raw deal. But he’s not the only person in public life that’s happened to.”
But he did keep his legacy alive by winning a Senate seat 10 years later, which he’d hold nearly without ever for five terms. His accomplishments and leadership positions were numerous, including a leading role on he Affordable Healthcare Act. And he, like his dad, was close to Ted Kennedy.
In a series NBC News series called, “Father’s Day in the Senate,” Dodd said “stylistically, I think, in a sense, my father was maybe less collegial… He was more inclined to not develop relationships with people whom he disagreed with. I have good relationships with people I don’t necessarily share substantive views with.”But he also uses his father’s adage which is “good politics are good manners.” And if that’s the case, his dad would be proud indeed.