“It’s a lot to bear” - the ‘widow’s succession’ is back in the age of COVID-19

Published: Mar. 17, 2021 at 11:02 AM CDT
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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - Two women are running for House seats their husbands won in November. Julia Letlow (R-LA) and Susan Wright (R-TX) are entering the political arena after their husbands passed away earlier this year from contracting COVID-19.

One woman who went through the same process says these candidates are jumping into the political spotlight during a difficult time.

“It’s a lot to bear,” said former Rep. Mary Bono (R-CA).

Bono is one of 47 women throughout history to take part in what is known as the “Widow’s Succession” – the practice of filling the seat of a departed spouse. Her husband Sonny Bono (R-CA) died in a skiing accident in 1998 during his third year serving a California Congressional District.

Mary did not know about this tradition of widow’s running for office. After urging from friends and colleagues, she committed to run and blazed her own trail in Congress for 15 years.

“You get to fulfill the legacy that your late husband started, and of course that’s a very healing thing to do,” said Bono.

Julia Letlow’s late husband Luke was set to begin his first term representing Louisiana’s 5th Congressional District. Susan Wright’s husband Ron was about to begin his second term representing Texas’ 6th District. Neither Julia nor Susan has held public office before. But Bono says experience does not matter.

“If you’ve got common sense, you’re probably qualified to run for office,” said Bono.

Not everyone on Capitol Hill has political experience before joining the ranks in Congress. And while there can be a steep learning curve, Louisiana State University political expert Robert Hogan argues inexperience can actually be advantageous.

“They don’t have the political baggage so to speak,” said Hogan. “They can maybe talk to both sides in a way, that, in a highly polarized environment, that perhaps someone who worked their way up through the ranks, can’t do.”

Hogan says much of representation is based on values and trust. He believes if these women shared values with their late husbands, it can earn them trust with those same voters that supported their husbands.

“Does this person represent the things that you care about and are a priority for you?” said Hogan.

Bono says if these women do win, their new journey on Capitol Hill can help with the grief.

“Picking up where they left off and going on with their important causes. It is part of the healing process for sure,” said Bono.

Of the 47 women to succeed their husbands, eight served in the Senate, 39 in the House. Both Letlow and Wright have multiple opponents in their races. Election day in Letlow’s primary is Saturday, March 20. Wright’s election is in May.

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