The administration made calls to the people and corporations who financed Jeffords' campaign asking them to apply pressure on him to stay put.
It is not everyday that we see the example of a person who puts aside his or her own best interest to do what is right for the country. Last week Sen. James M. Jeffords of Vermont exemplified courage and clarity of spirit by declaring independence from the Grand Old Party to become an Independent. Jeffords looked to the horizon and saw an out-of-control freight train carrying an irresponsible, big-oil give-away of an energy plan, cuts to special needs school programs and threats to many environmentally sensitive areas and he stepped on to the tracks. Jeffords' decision takes away Republican control of the Senate and restores balance to an agenda of corporate give-a-ways.
Anyone who has children, drinks water, breathes air, or values personal freedom, should thank Sen. Jeffords for his courage. His decision was made under great pressure from President Bush, Vice President Cheney and many in the Republican Party. There were leaks from the Bush administration threatening to introduce legislation that would harm the dairy farmers that comprise a large portion of Jeffords constituency. The administration made calls to the people and corporations who financed Jeffords' campaign asking them to apply pressure on him to stay put. He did not flinch.
Sen. Jeffords did what he knows is right for the American people, knowing he will pay a political price for it. He stood by his personal convictions instead of Republican corporate donors. Jeffords said, "I became a Republican not because I was born into the party, but because of the kind of fundamental principles that Republicans stood for: Moderation, tolerance and fiscal responsibility." He went on to say that, "in the past, without the presidency, the various wings of the Republican Party in Congress have had some freedom to argue and influence and ultimately to shape the party's agenda. The election of President Bush changed that dramatically."
Bush mistook his loss in the popular vote as a mandate to force his right-wing agenda onto an unwitting and unwilling American Public, and many in his own party. Bush, "the Centrist" who set a record for campaign fund-raising for the 2000 elections, is not even trying to hide the fact that his agenda is to repay the wealthy donors and corporations that helped him break that record. His tax cut favors the rich, over the poor and middle class. His energy plan is an attack on the public lands and the health of the environment. Sen. Jeffords refused to become a member of the big oil, big industry, and big polluters marketing team that was sent to Washington last fall.
"I have changed my party label, but I have not changed my beliefs. Indeed, my decision is about affirming the principles that have shaped my career," said Jeffords.
We have become a nation of cynics when it comes to politics, but yesterday was reassurance that the system works. One man, armed only with the conviction of his principles, changed the way the country will be governed for the next few years. He put the country first. To many, perhaps it was nothing more than a headline, or a political maneuver, but to me, it was nothing short of watching one Chinese student stop a line of tanks. Both symbolize to me the triumph of will over a seemingly unstoppable political force.
I find it symbolic that Sen. Jeffords made the switch in the shadow of Memorial Day, a day in which we remember those who serve and die for the cause of freedom. When political office is used to further personal interest it is an insult to those we honored yesterday. Sen. Jeffords did service to those we honored by exercising the freedom for which they stand.
I'm sure something will happen again soon to cloud my eyes with cynicism; but for today, I am going to hold onto the hope supplied by one man and his convictions.
Kevin T. Myers is a Juneau representative of the Sierra Club.
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