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Sons of Former Rivals Could Be Colleagues in the Next Congress

California state Sen. John Campbell (R) got his first taste of politics in 1966 watching Assemblyman and future Congressman Anthony Beilenson (D) beat his father for a seat in the California Senate.

Now, he could find himself going toe to toe in Congress with Beilenson’s son, Peter.

Like Campbell, who is running for an open House seat in California, Peter Beilenson (D) — Baltimore’s health commissioner for the past 13 years — is running for an open House seat in Maryland.

“You’re kidding me!” Campbell said, when informed that he might bump into the son of the man who beat his father on the House floor.

“I do think it’s very interesting, and I would very much look forward to meeting him and working with him. Our dads ran against each other, but we’re not. I would hope we can be friends.”

Ditto that for Beilenson, who was only 2 years old when his dad beat Campbell’s father, Alex.

“I would certainly go over and say hi,” Beilenson said. “I’m not hugely partisan; I think it’s very important to cross the aisle and work on issues” without regard to party.

Campbell is running in a special election for the House seat left vacant by Christopher Cox (R), who was appointed chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission. Beilenson is running for the House seat being vacated by Rep. Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.), who is running for Senate.

Naturally, Beilenson’s father is proud of his son, believing he is just the sort of man Congress needs at a time when the country is facing serious choices on all matters of policy.

Although it never really occurred to the elder Beilenson that his son would follow in his footsteps, he is happy for him and has not discouraged him.

“I was very supportive from the beginning,” Anthony Beilenson said.

“It was his own decision to make, but it appealed greatly to me, mainly because I know from my own experience that there’s nothing (Congress) needs more than intelligent men and women whose principal interests are issues of policy, not politics.”

At almost 93, Campbell’s father wasn’t up for an interview, but his son said his father also is proud of his political

accomplishments and his House run — although the first thing he asked his son when Campbell told his father he was running, was, “Why would you want to do that; why would you want to go all the way back there?”

Campbell comes from a long line of California Republicans. His great grandfather was elected to the state Assembly in 1860 and was chairman of the judiciary committee that wrote the state constitution.

Just as he had initial misgivings about his son spending time in Washington, D.C., the elder Campbell also was surprised his son would want to put up with the rigors of running for state office. But that feeling quickly faded, and Campbell’s father has been very supportive of his son’s political career throughout.

“We’re sort of a Scottish, Protestant family; we don’t show a lot of emotion, so it’s a quiet pride,” Campbell said.

Peter Beilenson was too young to remember his father’s state Senate race against Campbell’s father. But Beilenson does recall his father’s time in the California Legislature.

The elder Beilenson was chairman of the Health and Welfare Committee, and Beilenson said his father’s work on those issues contributed to his decision to become a doctor, and later Baltimore’s health commissioner, a job that allowed him to marry his interest in medicine with his desire to shape public policy.

“I’m certainly my own person,” the younger Beilenson said. “Having said that, would it be kind of cool to end up in the same place as him? Yes.”

Campbell has very vivid memories about his father’s defeat at the hands of Beilenson. Although Campbell is a longtime Orange County resident, he grew up in a portion of Los Angeles that is sandwiched between Hollywood and the south central part of the city, which is where his father lost a state Senate race he never really had a chance to win.

But Campbell, who was 11 at the time, didn’t know the political realities of safe districts. So after weeks of stuffing envelopes, putting up placards and bumper stickers and helping his father with other standard campaign tasks, he was crushed when his father lost.

When people ask Campbell how a car dealer and former certified public accountant ended up in politics, he tells them about his father. He still has a potholder with his father’s campaign slogan, “Campbell is good for you,” which was a riff on the Campbell’s Soup slogan of the time.

“I had a bicycle and a red wagon and bumper stickers,” Campbell recalled. “I was blanketing the world (with stickers) for my dad. I couldn’t go more than three blocks because I wasn’t allowed to cross a major street.”

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