Democrats claim 51-49 majority
This, of course, will mean the end of the Republican majority. Democrats will take outright control of the Senate, 51-49. All committee chairmanships will go to the Democrats. Tom Daschle, the current Minority Leader from South Dakota will be in. Trent Lott will be out. Daschle will set the agenda and run the day to day operations of the Senate. Vice President Dick Cheney's "tie-breaking" vote is suddenly irrelevant for
organizational purposes. In short, this development is nothing short of a disaster for the Republican Party, the Bush Administration and the American people.
No "Principled" Reasons for Jeffords
We are hoping Jeffords makes no attempts to blow smoke up the American peoples' noses tomorrow by claiming that his move has something to do with "principle." It is nothing of the kind. And no, he is not jumping parties because the GOP has "hassled" him about his unreliability and their inability to count on his vote. Nor does this have anything to do with the dairy price supports (an extremely complex issue wherein the federal government essentially fixes dairy prices across the country) issue----because Jeffords fought for and won a special deal for Vermont---something Wisconsin did not get.
This has everything to do with opportunism. Jeffords is the Chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, but---like New Mexico's Pete Domenici----he is term-limited in that position. They each have only a year and a half remaining in those committee chairmanships and they will be
out, according to Senate Rules.
By switching parties Jeffords is going to get to stay chairman of that same committee----Ted Kennedy, the ranking Democrat has already agreed to let him do that in exchange for Jefford's turning his coat. Additionally, one would presume the Democrats have laid out a sweetheart committee chairmanship for January 2003, when Jefford's chairmanship (and Domenici's) is set to expire in any case.
Death Watch on the Potomac
All this has everything to do with Strom Thurmond (R-SC) and the Democrats' death watch. The 98 year-old senator is said to be on his last legs and this has made Jeffords continuously
nervous. Jeffords is from a liberal state, which went for Gore--and for Clinton twice. If Thurmond were to die while Jeffords is still a Republican, Jeffords wouldn't even have the chairmanship anymore. In short, he would lose all his clout and still be stuck in a liberal state. He doesn't believe enough in himself to think he could still make his case to the Vermont electorate. This has made him too nervous to sit still. He's jumping because he has nothing to lose.
Of course, for some of us, you have to look at yourself in the mirror each morning and have that "life-is-too-short" discussion about selling yourself---and selling out the electorate. Jeffords, fortunately for him we suppose (but sad, actually, when you think about what living that kind of life really means) has no such integrity qualms.
Domenici out as Budget Chairman
What all this will mean, of course, is that Pete Domenici will no longer be chairman of the Senate Budget Committee. The nation's most talented senator, and New Mexico's strongest political operative in history, will be merely the ranking Republican. The insufferable Fritz Hollings of South Carolina will be in charge.
Black Day for New Mexico
How much damage will this do to New Mexico's vaunted return on its tax dollars? Currently, and for most of the past 20 years under Domenici's leadership, New Mexico has ranked number one for the most federal dollars returning to a state----for each dollar we send to Washington. And it hasn't even been
We have generally averaged around $1.85 in federal expenditures in our state for each dollar the federal treasury receives from the Land of Enchantment. The second place state, usually West Virginia, is always some 20 to 35 cents behind that figure. And the rest of the country is way behind that. What will happen to that factoid? Time will tell.
Huge Lesson for Both Parties
There is only one reason for all this uncertainty: the fact that the Republicans have one senator who is going to be 100 years old before his term expires. (Thurmond was born December 2, 1902.) In 1996, after much soul-searching, the South Carolina Republican Party, and the state's leading political figure (after Thurmond himself) the widely popular Governor Carroll Campbell, decided to fall in behind one last term for the then 94 year-old senator, easily the oldest member of congress ever to seek re-election. Campbell could easily have won the seat himself, but selflessly allowed the elderly gentleman (and he is a fine gentleman) to go out with one more term.
Today, the effectiveness of the entire Bush-Cheney Administration, and the direction our country will continue to take on a wide range of issues, hangs in the balance.
The lesson is clear for both parties in this era of razor-thin splits in both houses: each and every candidacy must be thoroughly vetted. Personal ambition cannot be the sole determining factor in selection of candidates. The control of each house can come down to a single seat.
Jefford's Voting Record
Jim Jeffords has voted with the Democrats more than any other Republican senator over the past 20 years. He is the only Republican member in the entire congress who backed the Hillary Clinton national health care plan in 1993. He voted for motor voter (a complete electoral disaster) and the Brady Bill (despite Vermont's anti-gun control sentiment---the only conservative sentiment in the state).
He pushed for more funding for the National Endowment for the Arts and for raising the minimum wage. He supports abortion in all circumstances and favors gay and lesbian "rights." He strongly opposes school vouchers.
He generally sided with Clinton throughout the impeachment ordeal and voted to acquit on both counts. (Though it must be said, probably fewer than ten senators showed any courage at all during that entire episode in American history, and perhaps only three or four distinguished themselves, even behind
But here is a clincher on the Jeffords Principles: When Juanita Broaddrick charged Clinton with sexual assault, Jeffords said on Vermont radio: "I think that the kind of things like that are supposedly private matters and should stay that way. I don't know why it wouldn't be a private matter."
The next day, after howls of protest from at least some women's groups (and men for that matter---anyone with a conscience), and presumably the overnight polling on the effect such a position might have with women in Vermont, he apologized and said, "Juanita Broaddrick's statements are disturbing and should be taken seriously, as any claim of rape should be."
Thank you, senator. Appreciate that. Of course he only apologized and issued the second statement after calculating the downside to his actual, previously stated, position---the one he really believes.
All foregoing is consistent with what he will do tomorrow.
As if he needed another setback, tomorrow's event will put the finishing touch on the record of the most disastrous Chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee in the history of that position. Mitch McConnell succeeded in losing total control of the senate in a cycle when no one, absolutely no political analyst (including this one) believed the GOP was in a vulnerable position. McConnell lost them all, lost virtually every single competitive race, seven of them---and won none of them. His refusal to put money into the open seat New Jersey race because the Democrat was on his way to spending $70 million out of his own pocket, was a colossal blunder. The underfunded Republican almost pulled it out, and almost certainly would have had he had any help whatsoever.
Glaringly, he showed a blind spot for a lesson being re-taught across the country, every cycle: women candidates (even very very dumb and flawed ones) are powerful weapons in campaigns. The now flat-broke Maria Cantwell (once a multi-gazillionaire, on paper, from her "dot.com" company) campaigned as some sort of entrepreneur. Wasn't true, of course, but no one found out until AFTER the election.
A weak female candidate took the Michigan seat away as well. The GOP did not do the obvious: go for reasonably strong female candidates in a number of states where just having a woman candidate can get you 18-20% of the Democrat vote. When you get that, you are very close to winning the election, no matter what. The Democrats have figured out how to get about the same percentage of Republican votes, and they did it in both Washington and Michigan, and we lost them both.
McConnell had a chance to recruit a credible woman in New Mexico, but sat back, arrogant and overconfident, believing he did not have to beat Bingaman in order to hold the GOP majority.
Don't Expect a Democrat Switch
There will probably be a lot of speculation about a Democrat offsetting Jeffords by switching to the Republican Party. A lot of attention will be focused on Georgia Senator Zell Miller because of his announced support for Bush's tax relief plans and other shows of support for conservative causes and issues.
We would not expect that. The reason being that the same problem exists for Miller, and any other Democrat: the uncertainty about Thurmond (and other elderly or frail Republicans). If Miller switches and Thurmond dies, then he would be in the minority----after being in the majority through the Jeffords switch. Why risk that?