Debbie Dingell Wants To Continue Dingell Family’s Royalist Legacy

John and Debbie Dingell

Debbie Dingell, the wife of retiring Congressman John Dingell, apparently wants to follow in his footsteps:

Democrat Debbie Dingell plans to run for the seat being vacated by her husband, Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.), two senior Democratic strategists on Capitol Hill familiar with her plans told Post Politics. She will begin her campaign as the clear front-runner to succeed her husband.

Debbie Dingell is an experienced Democratic strategist who currently serves as chair of the Wayne State University Board of Governors. John Dingell has praised her as his closest confidant.

“She’s been my guide, my counsel, my friend and my closest adviser,” he recently told the Detroit News.

Debbie Dingell is expected to maker her announcement official by the end of the week.

The 12th district is based in Ann Arbor. It is safe Democratic territory where President Obama won 66 percent of the vote in 2012.

As I noted yesterday, the Congressi0nal seat that John Dingell is vacating was previously held by his father. When he retires next year the seat will have been held by the same family since 1933. Given that Mrs. Dingell is approximately 60 years of age it’s entirely possible that, if she wins, the seat will remain in the family for 100 years. There is something about this that just isn’t right.

FILED UNDER: 2014 Election, Congress, US Politics, ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. PJ says:

    You do understand that there’s no voting in a Monarchy, don’t you?

    There is something about this that just isn’t right.

    I’m pretty certain that what’s wrong is spelled gerrymandering and not “nepotism”.

    And I’ll repost my comment from your other Dingell post:

    Btw, Doug, didn’t you give money to Rand Paul, the son of Ron Paul?

    But then, I’m unsure about what your definition of nepotism is, because, as already pointed out by others, it doesn’t seem to have much to do with the general definition of nepotism.

    Is it only “nepotism” if someone is running for the seat vacated by his or her relative?
    How about when yet another Kennedy is running for a seat in Massachusetts, even if that seat isn’t vacated by another Kennedy? Is that “nepotism” by your definition? When Hillary Clinton ran for a Senate seat in New York, was that your kind of “nepotism”?

    But I’m pretty sure that when Rand Paul, son of Ron, ran for a Senate seat in Kentucky, then that wasn’t “nepotism” according to your definition…

  2. SKI says:

    There is something about this that just isn’t right.

    What is that?

    It isn’t like they’ve suspended elections, right? The district keeps sending them back every two years. People can and do challenge them. No vote tampering? No fraud?

    He even faced a challenging election in 2002 when the GOP-controlled state government redisticted him into facing a 4-term Congresswoman in the primary. The voters of his district keep choosing him.

    Why should we legislate to promote your gut feeling over voter’s preference?

  3. Tillman says:

    There is something about this that just isn’t right.

    If a company can survive in the free market for over a century, as several established brands have, is there something inherently wrong with their continued success?

    Tano said this really well in the last thread:

    John Dingell was sent to Washington by the voters, not by his father.
    If his wife succeeds him in office, it will be because the voters send her there, not because he has appointed her.

    …There is nothing inherently wrong with the relative of an incumbent putting themselves forward as a potential successor. Nor is there anything wrong with the incumbent endorsing his relative. So long as the decision rests with the voters, there is no problem.

    I’d reproduce PJ’s too, but he already has. To be fair, I’m also uneasy about dynastic politicians in a democracy, and I found trumwill’s idea over term limits for House congressmen (restricting them to 12 terms or 24 years of service) reasonable.

  4. PJ says:


    …and I found trumwill’s idea over term limits for House congressmen (restricting them to 12 terms or 24 years of service) reasonable.

    That would mean that in 2014 of the 431 currently serving in the House, 40 would end up being term-limited. Of those 40, six are already retiring, which means that if all of the remaining 34 would end up run and win their reelections, then in 2015, 8% of the House would have served more than 24 years.

    As of today, the median term length in the House is 7.1 years and the mean term length is 9.8 years.

    I can’t see this as an issue.

    (Side note, both Boehner and Pelosi would end up being term-limited if there was a 24 year limit this year.)

  5. Ben says:

    All of you are making very righteous noises about democracy working and arguing how the voters keep making this conscious decision to send him back, but I think that’s not usually so. A large portion of voters vote on nothing other than party ident and a recognizable last name. Case in point: Patches Kennedy, who was my Representative for several years. He was a loser, an addict, a drunk driver and a buffoon. He accomplished absolutely nothing of value in his life, and skated by solely on his surname. But the voters kept reliably sending him back to DC for over a decade, no matter what. Thank god he finally decided to retire and just live his dumb rich Billy Madison life back in 2010, because now we have a great Rep in my district that actually does a great job representing our interests and doesn’t constantly embarrass the district.

  6. Tillman says:

    @PJ: Your data there is why trumwill said that length of time was a good stopping point: most don’t make it that long anyway and it will filter out some old-timers for the comfort of those of us bothered by political dynasty.

    @Ben: With national politics, I’m not really opposed to voting purely based on party identification since parties act in certain ways. State and local politics, it’s a horrible idea.

  7. stonetools says:

    Why do I think Doug voted for both George HW Bush and George Jr? Why do I think Doug would be fine if Jeb Bush ran for President in 2016?

  8. Moosebreath says:

    “Dingell Family’s Royalist Legacy”

    What monarchy do they represent, Doug? Be specific.

    Only a bit less snarkily, which Dingell peed in your corn flakes?

    You seem on a remarkably high horse about them and only them, to the extent that you want to impose your viewpoints on who a proper Congressperson should be on the voters of that district. Clearly you feel that the voters are incapable of making their own minds up, and need the firm direction of an outsider who has no attachment whatever to their district telling them who they can and cannot elect.

    If this were in any other aspect of these people’s lives, you would be screaming about the intrusion of the nanny state. I guess your commitment to Libertarianism stops at the voting booth curtain.

  9. Franklin says:

    Totally immature, but do they happen to have a son named Barry, by the way?

  10. Tano says:


    now we have a great Rep in my district that actually does a great job representing our interests and doesn’t constantly embarrass the district

    Shame if you would have to lose him to term limits someday soon.

    Pointing to a lousy representative is not a good argument for term limits. It is the voter’s responsibility to choose their reps, and if they continue to choose badly, that is there own fault. The price of democracy.

    Forbidding them to reelect someone would artificially end the career of good representatives as well as bad and would likely lead to a worse outcome as often as a better one.

    I see no rational reason to support term limits – even for its avowed benefits it is a hugely crude and inefficient tool likely at best to be a wash, in terms of results. And I don’t see that the argument improves after 24 years either – it probably weakens. After that long a time, one imagines that the bad representatives have mostly been filtered out.

  11. al-Ameda says:

    Kind of begs the question: Is the Bush family a bunch of royalists?

  12. Ben says:


    Maybe this wasn’t clear from my comment, but my argument had nothing to do with term limits. I was simply showing that while we can argue about whether situations like this are truly nepotism, it is simply inarguable that many districts around the country will continue to vote for a horribly substandard and unqualified candidate and his progeny based on nothing other than family name recognition. The Kennedy’s are simply one of the most obvious and embarrassing examples. And I say that as a liberal.

    And if I were to support term limits, I would definitely lean towards the limit being on the longer side, similar to the 20-25 years that has already been mentioned. In that case, I wouldn’t be in danger of losing my awesome Rep anytime soon. And would mean that he would be forced to give him his seat sometime in his mid-70s, which I would be fine with. I really tend to hate the fact that we governed by a bunch of septuagenarians. As someone still pre-mid-life, I tend to prefer that we include people in the governance of the country before their AARP days, as rare as that is.

  13. Pinky says:

    I’m really not getting this “royalist” thing. I mean, yes, that picture is terrifying. She looks like a ventriloquist with an oversized old-man dummy. But she’s got a legitimate political resume, and anyway, the only credentials you need to hold office are 50%+1 vote.

  14. Andre Kenji says:

    I don´t think that the issue is either monarchy or term limits. The issue is that incumbents and relatives of incumbents have access to donor lists and to name recognition, and that´s something that should not be so important.

    Besides that, everyone can agree that most Districts are no competitive as they should. But I don´t think that Dingell is the main problem there.

  15. OzarkHillbilly says:

    There is something about this that just isn’t right.

    Doug, why don’t you take the time and explain to us just exactly what is wrong with it? Your vague feelings of discomfort over it are not an argument.

  16. OzarkHillbilly says:

    To all those arguing for term limits, let me just say that Missouri’s experience with them shows they don’t exactly do what you think they will. In MO both Senators and Reps are limited to 8 years. This means that by the time they figure out what they are doing, they can’t be there anymore. Most of the committee chairs don’t even know Roberts Rules (snark but it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if it were true). So how does anything get done in MO? Just exactly who is running the legislative processes in our fine state government?

    A bunch of unelected stooges (otherwise known as “aides”) who get passed around at retirement parties like a 6-pack after every election. Why? Because they know the rules like none of the people actually elected do, so only they can get things done.

    I was always taught that elections were the way to representative government. MO is an experiment to prove that wrong.

  17. JohnMcC says:

    As pointed out by others quicker than I, this is not a Democratic phenomenon. In Tennessee’s 2d district where I used to live there is a 2d generation Republican Congressman named Jimmy Duncan that has as safe a seat as there is, I imagine. Most voters think they’re still voting for his father — unless they’re young enough to think he’s been in the House roughly as long as Mr Dingell Jr.

    And the perceptive Mr Andre Kenji (loyal Brazilian!) notes correctly that family connections still — even in the 21st century — reassure funders and party regulars and others who’s support makes up the so-called ‘hidden primary’ that office-seekers must traverse.

  18. Andre Kenji says:


    It´s not only a matter of funders and party regulars. There is the issue of name recognition, that´s strikingly important for most voters. By the way, these political dynasties are extremely common in Latin America, and that´s directly linked to the idea of the caudillo/Coronel. These caudillos/Coroneis usually have their children in all kinds of elected political posts. Here in Brazil, it´s common to see rich politicians in very poor regions, usually being related to graft and corruption, electing their children to Congress.

    At least here in Brazil is extremely expensive to run for Congress and no wonder, we have a Congress that´s waay whiter and waay richer than the population as whole. No wonder that many people that are elected are people that already have the right connections and the money coming from their relatives.

    I think that these political dynasties are a problem. If you have competitive elections it´s harder to get elected solely due to the political donors from daddy and from name(Or surname recognition). On the other hand, Mexico famously has strong term limits(Far tougher than anything that Movement Conservatives can think) and they have a very large number of political dynasties. You can read a book on Mexican History and then read the Mexican political news. You´ll note that many surnames are basically the same.

    I think that one could argue that if US House elections were more competitive, then we could see less people with the same surname in Congress. But I don´t think that term limits are a solution. That´s trying to deal with the symptoms, not with the disease.

  19. Trumwill says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: That’s one of the reasons I am skeptical of short term limits and why I would advocate for longer limits. Another reason is that when limits aretoo short they have to worry about making a living after they’ve left and that can lead to some bad incentives. But I don’t consider either of these to be much of a problem with tterm limits of 20 years or so.

  20. dazedandconfused says:

    Guys like Dingle put the brakes on “term limits” by using the insidious tactic of being intelligent and flagrantly flaunting the kind of knowledge that can only be gained through decades of experience.

  21. We must be a pretty good country if a third-generation American, Dingell Jr., can become “royal[ity]”.

  22. bill says:

    ironic how he says congress is so messed up and such, but she’ll have no problem taking the money!