Sen. Bernie Sanders (I)
Elected: 2006, term expires 2012, 1st term.
Born: Sept. 8, 1941, New York, NY .
Education: Attended Brooklyn Col., U. of Chicago, B.A. 1964.
Family: Married (Jane O’Meara Sanders); 4 children.
Elected office: Burlington mayor, 1981-89; U.S. House of Reps., 1990-2006.
Professional Career: Writer; Dir., Amer. People’s Historical Soc., 1977-81; Lecturer, Harvard U., 1989; Prof., Hamilton Col., 1990
Vermont’s junior senator is Bernie Sanders, a Socialist elected as an independent in 2006 but treated as a Democrat in the Senate. Sanders grew up in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn, the son of a paint salesman who had emigrated from Poland; his mother died when he was a teenager. He became involved in radical leftist politics at the University of Chicago, then came to Vermont as part of the hippie migration of 1968 and worked as a carpenter. Four years later, he ran in a special U.S. Senate election to replace Republican Winston Prouty, who died in office in 1971; Sanders won just 2% of the vote as the candidate of the socialist Liberty Union Party. He went on to lose four more statewide races until his rumpled, tieless, sincere persona finally won over the people of Burlington, who elected him mayor in 1981 by just 10 votes. In 1988, when Republican Rep. James Jeffords ran for the Senate, Sanders made a bid for the House but lost to Republican Peter Smith in a close, three-way race. Two years later, he ran again and reversed the result by capitalizing on Smith’s support of the 1990 budget agreement and his vote to ban semiautomatic weapons. The National Rifle Association came out against Smith, and Sanders’s opposition to gun control helped him carry 227 of Vermont’s 251 cities and towns, plus three gores and one grant, as unincorporated areas in Vermont are known. Sanders became only the third Socialist elected to the House, after Victor Berger of Milwaukee (1911-13, 1923-29) and Meyer London of Manhattan’s Lower East Side (1915-23). His views haven’t changed much since his first election.
|Bernie Sanders (I)||171,638||(65%)||($6,004,222)|
|Richard Tarrant (R)||84,924||(32%)||($7,300,392)|
|Bernie Sanders (D)||35,954||(94%)|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2004 House (67%), 2002 House (64%), 2000 House (69%), 1998 House (63%), 1996 House (55%), 1994 House (50%), 1992 House (58%), 1990 House (56%)
In the House, where Sanders served as Vermont’s single, at-large member, Democrats initially balked at accepting him in their caucus, but they granted him seniority as a Democrat when he arrived in 1991. He amassed a heavily liberal voting record and formed a Progressive Caucus with a somewhat quixotic agenda: progressive tax reform, a Canada-style single-payer health care system, a 50% cut in military spending, a national energy policy, and—a Vermont touch—support for family farms.
He was at times a practical and successful legislator, gaining Republican allies in targeting so-called corporate welfare—government benefits to well-heeled companies. With Republican Chris Smith of New Jersey, he passed an amendment barring spending for defense contractor mergers. In 2001, he proposed a $300 per person income-tax rebate. It quickly became Democratic Party policy, and Republicans, in assembling majorities for the Bush tax cuts, included it in diluted form—a $300 rebate for income-tax-paying adults. Sanders and the Democrats noted ruefully that Bush took credit for a tax-cutting proposal that was initially theirs. As much as any member of Congress, Sanders made the cost of prescription drugs a national issue. Since the 1980s, he has called for government programs to pay for prescription drugs, and he was the first member of Congress to lead bus trips to Canada to buy drugs there. He has denounced “the insatiable greed that consumes this runaway [pharmaceutical] industry.”
On trade issues, Sanders is predictably on the far left. He has called for repeal of the North American Free Trade Agreement, which organized labor has long opposed, and for a moratorium on new free-trade pacts. He argues that workers in both the United States and foreign nations would be better off without them. On national security, Sanders has been a critic of the Bush administration’s anti-terrorism policies, particularly those allowing government investigators to obtain records from libraries and bookstores. As Vermont’s lone representative in the House, he was a leading backer of the dairy compact that propped up Northeast dairy prices. After the compact expired in 2001, his bill to establish a national dairy compact passed the House, but was killed in conference committee with the Senate after Midwestern dairy states objected.
All of this played well with Vermont voters, and by the late 1990s, Sanders began winning by large margins as Democratic candidates failed to gain support from the state party, if they filed to run against Sanders at all.
Sanders twice gave serious consideration to challenging Jeffords for his Senate seat. But in May 2001, Jeffords left the Republican Party, an event that gave Democrats a majority in the Senate for 19 months. Like Sanders in the House, Jeffords called himself an independent but caucused with the Democrats. In April 2005, Jeffords announced he would not run for another term in 2006. Sanders became the early front-runner and quickly amassed endorsements from top Vermont Democrats, including former Gov. Phil Hoff, Burlington Mayor Peter Clavelle, Senate President Pro Tempore Peter Welch, and House Speaker Gaye Symington. Ever the loner, Sanders said he would neither seek nor accept the Democratic nomination—but, with his consent, Democrats ran his name on the primary ballot anyway. In the Democratic primary, he won 94% of the vote, though he formally declined the nomination and petitioned the state to list him on the general election ballot as an independent. Still, Howard Dean, chairman of the Democratic National Committee and a former Vermont governor, declared, “A victory for Bernie Sanders is a win for Democrats.”
On the Republican side, Gov. Jim Douglas was considered the strongest Republican candidate, but he declined to run. Richard Tarrant, a multimillionaire businessman and former high school basketball star, became the nominee. His campaign was almost entirely self-funded: He spent $7.3 million of his own money, much of it on television commercials. His ads sought to portray Sanders as an ineffective radical who was soft on sexual predators and drug dealers. The strategy might have worked elsewhere but not in Vermont, where voters were well acquainted with Sanders and his iconoclastic ways. Despite the harsh attacks—or perhaps because of them—Tarrant was never able to close the gap in the polls. He outspent Sanders, but Sanders also proved to be well funded. He raised and spent over $6 million, many times more than ever before and enough to make this the costliest race in state history. Sanders won easily, 65%-32%.
He settled with surprising ease into the Senate’s more structured ways, and he grew more sensitive to his reputation as a troublemaker. Democrat Patrick Leahy, the state’s senior senator, told a Vermont reporter that other senators confided to him “what a pleasant surprise [Sanders] has turned out to be” with his willingness to forge legislative deals. With seats on committees that deal with energy and environment issues, Sanders worked for deep cuts in industrial pollution in the global-warming bill. He sought to promote new technology to reduce emissions in the automobile and energy industries. In 2007, the Senate passed his amendment to the energy bill to encourage universities to support energy-efficient projects. Sanders also resumed his opposition to international trade deals, blaming them for lowering domestic wages and shuttering U.S. factories.
Sanders remains a fervent opponent of the Iraq war, but none of his amendments to set a deadline for withdrawal were enacted. In another futile gesture, he delayed for weeks the confirmation of Jim Nussle as director of the White House Office of Management and Budget; Nussle, he said, “doesn’t get the economic realities facing working people in our country.” Democratic Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois was chagrined to learn that he had amassed a more liberal voting record than Sanders in 2007, a fact that was used against him by some critics during his presidential campaign.