Congresswoman Dingell?


Incredible as it may seem, Michigan has had a John Dingell in Congress since 1933, during the last weeks of the Hoover administration. When the first Mr. Dingell died in office, his son and namesake was chosen to succeed him.

Last week, after the longest career in congressional history, the current Rep. John Dingell, who will be 88 this summer, announced he will retire when his term ends next January. Immediately, it was clear who the front-runner to succeed him will be: his 60-year-old wife, Debbie Dingell.

There’s nothing new about congressional wives following their husbands, in most cases after their deaths. Ms. Dingell is probably more qualified than most.

The granddaughter of one of the Fisher automotive brothers, she has worked in philanthropy for General Motors, and is a member of Wayne State University’s board of governors. A sometimes sharp-elbowed political insider, she serves on the Democratic National Committee and successfully managed Al Gore’s presidential campaign in Michigan in 2000.

However, Americans should be uneasy with any tendency toward something that looks like dynastic succession in our politics. Ohioans have learned the hard way that the name Taft doesn’t guarantee statesmanship. Former first lady Barbara Bush was on the right track when she said last year that “there are other people out there that are very qualified, and we’ve had enough Bushes.”

Whoever wins the Democratic primary this August in Mr. Dingell’s district is virtually assured of election in November. Voters may well conclude that Debbie Dingell is the best choice.

But her legitimacy will be suspect unless she wins a significant primary contest over a credible opponent. Voters should keep their minds open to the possibility of someone with a different surname, such as the energetic state Sen. Rebekah Warren of Ann Arbor.

After all, back in 1932, few voters had ever heard of a working-class guy named John Dingell.