Daily Archives: August 18, 2014

On Jim Jeffords

I don’t have much to add to the outpouring of words, messages, and comments on the death of former Senator Jim Jeffords. I didn’t move to Vermont until his very last year in office; and by then, he had largely withdrawn from the public sphere. But, for what it’s worth, here’s my two cents.

Jim Jeffords was a rare politician: one willing to vote his conscience even if it offended his colleagues. As a liberal, I cheered his decision to go independent in 2001 and tip the balance of power in the U.S. Senate. I could well understand why he did so: the Bush Administration was clearly intent on pushing the country far to the right. W’s definition of “bipartisanship” was “my way or the highway.” Not to mention that Bush was a terrible President, and the more power he had, the worse it was for the nation and the world.

 That said, I can understand why Jeffords was a villain to so many Republicans: after putting up with the Reagan years and the anti-Clinton madness of the 90s, he chooses to leave the Republican Party just when it hurt the most – when it tipped the balance of power in the Senate. It’s not unlike how Virginia Democrats feel about ex-Senator Philip Puckett, who resigned after being offered a cushy job. His departure and replacement by a Republican tipped the balance in the Virginia Senate.

 The two cases are not the same, obviously; Jeffords wasn’t offered a cushy job. But the impact was the same.

 And while Jeffords honestly felt he had no place in the modern-day GOP, his departure was the death knell for moderate Republicanism in Vermont. He served as a powerful example to other moderate Republicans, that the party had nothing to offer them. And for conservative Vermonters, I’m sure he became a symbol of moderate perfidy. I imagine that the antipathy toward Phil Scott’s moderate movement expressed by the likes of Darcie Johnston and Jack Lindley is largely engendered by Jim Jeffords’ apostasy. Honestly, if I were a conservative, looking at Phil Scott (or another moderate) in light of my experience with Jeffords, would I trust him to uphold the values of the GOP as I see them? Might I fairly view Scott as another potential turncoat? There’s certainly been speculation aplenty that Scott might someday run for Governor as an independent.

 I’m not saying that any of this is Jim Jeffords’ fault. He had abundant reason to believe that he was already an outcast in the Bush-era Republican Party. He didn’t cause the death of New England moderate Republicanism; he was just the last and loudest one to go. For that, he will always be a hero to liberals, and a turncoat to conservatives.

It would be fascinating to see an alternative timeline where Jeffords stuck it out as a Republican, and remained healthy and vibrant after his retirement. Could he have been an effective “leader emeritus” of a more moderate — or at least more inclusive — Vermont Republican Party? We’ll never know, but things might have turned out very differently for the VTGOP.

Once again, it’s time to grab the State Senate by the ankles, flip it upside down, and give it a damn good shake


The inevitable has occurred. The final member of the State Senate’s “Two Dicks and a John Club” has publicly endorsed Phil Scott’s bid for re-election as Lieutenant Governor. For those just joining us, that’s three of the most powerful Senate Democrats endorsing a Republican for a statewide office. An office which is largely ceremonial, but it does come with a spot on the three-member Senate Rules Committee and the ability to cast tiebreaking votes in the Senate.

The latest Dick to join the party is Sears of Bennington, following (as usual) in the well-worn footsteps of Dick “The Immovable Object” Mazza and Senate Penitent Pro Tem John Campbell.  The latter declared their true and abiding Phil-o-philia at an event in the garage where Mazza keeps his Corvette collection. Man of the people, is he.

Sears cited sound political principle for abandoning his party: “I’ve known Phil for 14 years, we’ve worked well together in the Senate.”

Well, Kum Ba Ya.

But that’s not all. Sears also rolls out the VTGOP’s endlessly reiterated campaign stand: “Restore Balance to Montpelier.”

“There’s little likelihood that Republicans will take over control of the House or Senate, and little likelihood they’ll be taking over the governor’s office,” Sears said. “I think it’s important for Vermont to have some balance, somebody who stands up and says, ‘I think we ought to look at it a different way.’”

Progressive Dean Corren, who’s seeking the Democratic nomination, would look at things in a different way himself, but I suspect that Sears would rather see that “different way” be Republican rather than Progressive. Or, more to the point, he’d rather see it coming from his bosom buddy Phil Scott. 

Myself, I’m not persuaded that a Lieutenant Governor will make a crucial difference in the balance of power. But he might make a key difference on a crucial vote or two, such as single-payer health care. Aside from breaking ties, Phil Scott has about as much power as top Democrats are willing to let him have. And pretty much the only occasion when the Senate is tied is when the Democrats fail to get their shit together.

And really, if Dick Sears is that interested in a bit of partisan balance, I suggest that he win re-election, immediately resign from the Senate, and urge the Governor to replace him with a Republican. A real, honest Republican, instead of a Democrat who ditches the party that nurtured him and helped elect him when he has to choose between his party and his friends.