Almanac A members-only database of searchable profiles compiled and adapted from the Almanac of American Politics

Biography

Elected: 2006, term expires 2018, 2nd term.

Born: September 8, 1941, New York, NY

Home: Burlington

Education: Attended Brooklyn Col., U. of Chicago, B.A. 1964

Professional Career: Writer; Dir., Amer. People’s Historical Soc., 1977-81; Lecturer, Harvard U., 1989; Prof., Hamilton Col., 1990

Ethnicity: White/Caucasian

Religion: Jewish

Family: married (Jane O’Meara Sanders) , 4 children

Vermont’s junior senator is Bernie Sanders, a Socialist elected as an independent in 2006 but treated as a Democrat in the Senate. He has gained a national following as a progressive champion and fiery spokesman for the political left. Taking over the chairmanship of the Veterans' Affairs Committee in 2013, he steered an overhaul of the VA into law a year later, one of the year's few bipartisan accomplishments. He now serves as the Budget Committee's top Democrat.

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, and then moved 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. “There was anger in the air, plenty of it,” the Burlington Free Press newspaper wrote 31 years later. “Bernie Sanders, a self-proclaimed Socialist of all people, had somehow stolen City Hall from (Democrats).”

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’ 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).

After coming over to the Senate from the House, Sanders settled with surprising ease into the Senate’s more structured ways, and 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 environmental 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 still sometimes displays his feisty liberal side. When President Barack Obama nominated Ben Bernanke in 2009 as chairman of the Federal Reserve, Sanders bristled, “When the people voted for change in 2008, they did not vote to have one of the key architects of the Bush economy be reappointed.” In June 2012, Sanders released the names of 18 Federal Reserve regional bank directors (current and former) whose businesses had received close to zero interest loans from the Federal Reserve. In 2010, Sanders got a provision into the Senate version of the Dodd-Frank financial industry overhaul bill ordering an audit of the Fed. He also introduced a bill imposing a 10% “billionaire’s surtax” on inheritances worth more than $500 million per spouse. He compared skeptics of human-caused global warming to non-Germans who had denied the spread of Nazism before World War II.

When in 2011 the “Occupy Wall Street” protest movement energized the American left, Sanders endorsed the goals of the upstart movement. “I am very supportive of the protests because they are focusing attention on an issue that needs a lot of discussion: not only the greed of Wall Street and the reckless behavior that has caused this recession, but also the growing inequality in the United States,” Sanders told the Burlington Free Press.

None of his efforts, though, drew as much attention as his apoplectic, marathon floor speech in December 2010 against extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, which lasted more than eight hours and cemented his national reputation. “How can I get by on one house?” Sanders said sarcastically at one point. “I need five houses, 10 houses! I need three jet planes to take me all over the world! Sorry, American people. We’ve got the money, we’ve got the power, we’ve got the lobbyists here and on Wall Street. Tough luck.” The speech proved so popular that it temporarily shut down the Senate video server and put his name atop Twitter’s list of trending topics. In early 2011, it was sold as a book, The Speech: A Historic Filibuster on Corporate Greed and the Decline of Our Middle Class, with the proceeds going to Vermont charities. “There have been filibusters,” wrote columnist Stephen Herrington on the liberal Huffington Post website. “But not in the memory of any living American has such a rhyme to the ages and passion to justice been brought to the floor of the United States Senate.”

In the months following the speech, Sanders made the rounds of television shows ranging from MSNBC to The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. He also was picked as the keynote speaker at California’s Democratic Party convention. He inveighed against the fiscal 2011 budget deal that Obama reached with Republicans, calling it “Robin Hood in reverse.” He also released a list of 10 large corporations that he said had paid disproportionately low taxes, including GE, Exxon-Mobil, and Bank of America.

Sanders also has been a steadfast opponent of proposals to privatize Social Security. Throughout his career, retiree groups have been Sanders’ leading industry campaign contributor, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. In March 2011, Sanders introduced a bill that would make it out of order in the Senate or House to consider any legislation that would increase the retirement age for Social Security eligibility. In August 2011, he made a public plea to lift the cap on payroll taxes that pay for Social Security. When Obama expressed a willingness to discuss entitlement reform as part of deficit talks, Sanders pointed out that Obama vowed not to cut Social Security during the 2008 presidential campaign.

After Hurricane Irene hit his state hard in the summer of 2011, Sanders led the way in attacking then-House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va. for suggesting that offsetting cuts should be made in conjunction with the release of federal disaster relief funds. “This absurd logic means that whether it is Hurricane Irene today or any future disaster, we might have to cut nutrition programs, Medicare, Medicaid or education before we can rebuild a devastated community,” Sanders wrote in a USA Today op-ed.

Sanders drew attention in fall 2013 when he toured several Southern states and declared that he would consider running for president in 2016. “Anyone who really, really wants to be president is slightly crazy because this is an unbelievably difficult job given the crises that this country faces today,” he said at one appearance. Nevertheless, he said that if no one else with his views ended up in the race, he would contemplate it to ensure that someone raises the issues important to him -- reining in Wall Street, addressing the "collapse" of the middle class and fighting the spread of poverty. His possible entry prompted a rebuke of sorts from consumer activist and ex-presidential candidate Ralph Nader, who in an April 2014 letter chastized Sanders for his work on Capitol Hill. "You are a Lone Ranger, unable even to form a core progressive force within the Senate,” Nader wrote.

Back in Washington, Sanders found himself in a somewhat unexpected position of influence as Veterans' Affairs chairman in 2014. Revelations about the poor treatment that veterans faced forced out Secretary Eric Shinseki and led to considerable pressure to pass a reform bill. Over several months, Sanders engaged in a regular and bitter war of words with his conservative House counterpart, Jeff Miller of Florida, but the two men struck a compromise at the conclusion of what Sanders called "a very, very difficult process." The $17 billion package sailed through the House unanimously and drew just three dissenting votes in the Senate.

During his years in the House (1991-2007), Sanders was Vermont’s single, at-large member. Democrats initially balked at accepting a Socialist 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 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 had 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.” With other liberals, he was a staunch opponent of going to war in Iraq.

All of this played well with Vermont voters, and by the late 1990s, Sanders began winning by large margins. 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 Burlington Mayor Peter Clavelle, Senate President Pro Tempore Peter Welch, and House Speaker Gaye Symington. With his consent, Democrats ran his name on their primary ballot, and he won 94% of the vote, although he formally declined the nomination and petitioned the state to list him on the general election ballot as an independent.

On the GOP side, Gov. Jim Douglas was considered the strongest Republican candidate, but he declined to run. Richard Tarrant, a multi-millionaire businessman and former high school basketball star, became the nominee. 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 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, 65%-32%.

Sanders had little trouble getting reelected in 2012, easily dispatching underfunded Republican John MacGovern, 71%-25%. Sanders also campaigned for like-minded, Wall Street critic Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat who won election to the Senate in neighboring Massachusetts.

Office Contact Information

MAIN OFFICE

(202) 224-5141

(202) 228-0776

DSOB- Dirksen Senate Office Building Room 332
Washington, DC 20510-4504

MAIN OFFICE

(202) 224-5141

(202) 228-0776

DSOB- Dirksen Senate Office Building Room 332
Washington, DC 20510-4504

DISTRICT OFFICE

(802) 862-0697

(802) 860-6370

One Church Street Third Floor
Burlington, VT 05401-4451

DISTRICT OFFICE

(802) 862-0697

(802) 860-6370

One Church Street Third Floor
Burlington, VT 05401-4451

DISTRICT OFFICE

(802) 748-9269

(802) 748-0302

357 Western Avenue Suite 1-B
St. Johnsbury, VT 05819

DISTRICT OFFICE

(802) 748-9269

(802) 748-0302

357 Western Avenue Suite 1-B
St. Johnsbury, VT 05819

CAMPAIGN OFFICE

(802) 862-1505

221 Van Patten Parkway
Burlington, VT 05408

CAMPAIGN OFFICE

(802) 862-1505

221 Van Patten Parkway
Burlington, VT 05408

Staff

Sort by: Interest Name Title

Abortion

Lori Kearns
Legislative Counsel

Acquisitions

David Weinstein
Acting State Director

Aerospace

Emily Rampone
Legislative Correspondent

Agriculture

Caryn Compton
Legislative Director

Elizabeth Chamberlin
Legislative Correspondent

Jenny Nelson
Field Representative

Animal Rights

Emily Rampone
Legislative Correspondent

Ian Rockwell
Legislative Correspondent

Appropriations

David Weinstein
Acting State Director

Arts

Ian Rockwell
Legislative Correspondent

Banking

Alex Beaton
Legislative Correspondent

Budget

Alex Beaton
Legislative Correspondent

David Weinstein
Acting State Director

Campaign

Lori Kearns
Legislative Counsel

Elizabeth Chamberlin
Legislative Correspondent

Commerce

Alex Beaton
Legislative Correspondent

Consumers

Caryn Compton
Legislative Director

Lori Kearns
Legislative Counsel

Disability

Lori Kearns
Legislative Counsel

Elizabeth Chamberlin
Legislative Correspondent

Disaster

Caryn Compton
Legislative Director

Education

Energy

Jason Reott
Energy and Environment Fellow

Katie Thomas
Legislative Assistant

Environment

Jason Reott
Energy and Environment Fellow

Katie Thomas
Legislative Assistant

Family

Lori Kearns
Legislative Counsel

Finance

Alex Beaton
Legislative Correspondent

Foreign

Caryn Compton
Legislative Director

Ian Rockwell
Legislative Correspondent

Govt Ops

Gun Issues

Caryn Compton
Legislative Director

Health

Lori Kearns
Legislative Counsel

Elizabeth Chamberlin
Legislative Correspondent

Steve Newell
AAAS Fellow

Homeland Security

Caryn Compton
Legislative Director

Ian Rockwell
Legislative Correspondent

Housing

David Weinstein
Acting State Director

Human Rights

Lori Kearns
Legislative Counsel

Elizabeth Chamberlin
Legislative Correspondent

Immigration

Caryn Compton
Legislative Director

Alex Beaton
Legislative Correspondent

Intelligence

Ian Rockwell
Legislative Correspondent

Judiciary

Lori Kearns
Legislative Counsel

Elizabeth Chamberlin
Legislative Correspondent

Labor

Alex Beaton
Legislative Correspondent

Medicare

Elizabeth Chamberlin
Legislative Correspondent

Military

Steve Robertson
Legislative Assistant

Ian Rockwell
Legislative Correspondent

Native Americans

Katie Thomas
Legislative Assistant

Science

Emily Rampone
Legislative Correspondent

Seniors

Alex Beaton
Legislative Correspondent

Elizabeth Chamberlin
Legislative Correspondent

Small Business

Alex Beaton
Legislative Correspondent

Social Security

Alex Beaton
Legislative Correspondent

Elizabeth Chamberlin
Legislative Correspondent

Technology

Emily Rampone
Legislative Correspondent

Telecommunications

Caryn Compton
Legislative Director

Trade

Alex Beaton
Legislative Correspondent

Transportation

David Weinstein
Acting State Director

Veterans

Steve Robertson
Legislative Assistant

Women

Lori Kearns
Legislative Counsel

Elizabeth Chamberlin
Legislative Correspondent

Election Results

2012 GENERAL
Bernie Sanders
Votes: 207,848
Percent: 71.06%
John MacGovern
Votes: 72,898
Percent: 24.92%
2012 PRIMARY
Bernie Sanders
Unopposed
2006 GENERAL
Bernie Sanders
Votes: 171,638
Percent: 65.0%
Richard Tarrant
Votes: 84,924
Percent: 32.0%
2006 PRIMARY
Bernie Sanders
Votes: 35,954
Percent: 94.0%
Prior Winning Percentages
2006 (65%); House: 2004 (67%), 2002 (64%), 2000 (69%), 1998 (63%), 1996 (55%), 1994 (50%), 1992 (58%), 1990 (56%)

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