Ken Cheuvront and his mother, Jean Cheuvront-McDermott, are hoping to go into business together — the politics business.
Mom and son are running for a state House and a state Senate seat. If they advance from packed Democratic primary races Tuesday and win in November, they would be the first mother-son duo ever in the Arizona Legislature, according to the state historian.
Parents and children who have pulled off the feat in other states say the experience has strengthened their bond. Running together can be helpful, especially if one family member has already found some success and built name recognition in the process.
Campaigning jointly with a family member, however, doesn’t always make things easier, said Andrew Polsky, a political science professor at Hunter College in New York. While they can boost each other and share expenses, both need donors and should be ready to speak if one person gets in trouble for a statement or gaffe.
“The image that comes to my mind is those three-legged potato sack races that kids have,” Polsky said. “It’s not easy to coordinate.”
The National Conference of State Legislatures reported in 2011 there were 23 family duos holding legislative seats. The pairings include brothers, fathers and sons and even married couples. Only two are mother and son.
For the Cheuvront family, however, family ties almost put a halt to their election plans.
Cheuvront, Arizona’s first openly gay legislative lawmaker who served in both chambers between 1994 and 2010, is running for a post-redistricting seat in what is essentially his old district.
Cheuvront-McDermott, meanwhile, is making her first attempt at elected office. She said it had long been a goal of hers but something else always seemed to come first, such as raising children or taking care of her husband after he suffered a stroke.
Several months into their campaign, a supporter of rival Democrats filed a lawsuit challenging Cheuvront-McDermott’s hyphenated name, saying she was unfairly trying to capitalize on her son’s name recognition. A judge removed her name from the ballot, but then the state’s high court put it back on, but instructed her to be listed as “Jean McDermott.”
“I think it’s a very sexist thing,” she said. “There are lots of women that use the hyphenated name. I’m not sure everyone has gone through a legal challenge to change it.”
Cheuvront-McDermott said she was known as Jean Cheuvront for more than 30 years in her community. When she divorced Ken’s father and remarried, she simply tacked on her second husband’s name because so many people knew her by Cheuvront. Now, she said, she will likely make it her legal name to avoid future confusion.
Polsky said he is not surprised opponents alleged Cheuvront-McDermott took advantage of her son’s name. Whether or not she was trying to take advantage, Polsky said name recognition is critical, especially for someone just starting out in politics.
“That’s one reason why in American politics we see family dynasties. We see Bushes, we see Cuomos, Kennedys because of name recognition,” Polsky said.
Ken Cheuvront said many Phoenix constituents thought it was novel that he would run with his mother. “I’ve been surprised by how supportive they are, especially women of a certain age who probably have sons. They love to see a son doing things for his mother,” he said.
Cheuvront said he isn’t worried about the possibility of her acting too motherly in front of colleagues in the halls of the Legislature. He said they have never had such a relationship where that would happen and added, jokingly, “It’s more likely I’d scold her — ‘What are you doing?’”
Republican Sen. Linda Gray, who has served 16 years in the Arizona Legislature, said she doesn’t see their familial ties making any significant impact in office. “They have individual minds,” said Gray, who has worked with Cheuvront.
Republican state Rep. Laura Jones ran with her son, Kyle, in 2010 for the New Hampshire Legislature. Despite neither of them having ever held political office and Kyle, now 21, not even being of legal drinking age at the time, both won.
Kyle, who still lives with his parents, and his mother agree the experience of leaving home together to go knock on doors and meet with constituents strengthened their bond. Campaigning together also led to some conversations one might not hear with just any running mates.
“I wanted to have purple signs,” she said. “He said, ‘Mom, I’m a guy. We can’t have purple.’”
Kyle said he and his mother have a better understanding of each other. “I think whether you’re involved in politics or not, you should at least try to spend as much time as possible with your children. They’re not going to be 19 or 12 or 18 forever.”