Thursday, May 31, 2001

Republican Vermonters are moving to the top of their file section titled “Dark Cloud Silver Lining,” the name of our very own, just out-of-the closet James Jeffords. Some of us, in fact, are thinking that its time to pop the champagne corks. Much as we are dismayed that President Bushs job is so much more difficult, the air up here is suddenly purer.
Now that Mr. Jeffords has revealed himself as neatly ensconced in the commissariat of Vermont along with the other three apparatchiks, Bernie Sanders, Patrick Leahy and Gov. Howard Dean, it is interesting to note what Republican insiders here are finally admitting. The most shocking is the information that Republican Jeffords intended to openly endorse our top Democrat official, far-left Howard Dean, then running for his third term. It was, Im told, only with great difficulty that Mr. Jeffords was dissuaded.
The perfidious depth of that move can be measured only if one understands just what a socialist economy (or non-economy, to put it bluntly) Mr. Dean has made of Vermont. This state is fit to reside in only if one has a bottomless pot of big bucks to pay ever increasing income and property taxes. If one sits way over on the other side of the ledger where the gimme group lodges it is, of course, swell. The two Dems and the one Socialist have long prided themselves on their generous handouts but it is important to put those handouts into focus. For instance, property taxes, levied to pay for statewide schooling, depend on surcharges to so-called gold towns like the one next to mine. The average income there is $35,000 for a family consisting of two working adults. Mr. Jeffords, to my knowledge, has never commented on this casual tossing about of tax revenue.
The other half of the “secret” has already been reported nationally: Mr. Jeffords intends to resign and run for governor, allowing Mr. Dean to run for the Senate. The 67-year-old Mr. Jeffords then gets to stay home in his beautiful green mountains as the beloved elder statesman and “guv” Dean gets to fly the high life in Washington. Their vote-getting ablilities having been tested many times, it would not be unbelievable to think that they have all but signed, sealed, and delivered this cynical swap.
But not so fast, gentlemen. An overnight poll on the day of Mr. Jeffords announcement happily casts some doubt on the neat little plan. It shows 40 percent of Vermonters disapprove of Mr. Jeffords move to independent.
Sally Quinn, D.C.s hostess with the mostest bon mots, said of Mr. Jeffords that his switch to independent status, “was like a sex change, neither here nor there,” and suggests that his power in the Senate will be moot. We Vermonters who have suffered with Mr. Jeffords decades-long, tortured, Hamletesque stands on key issues certainly hope things work out that way. We can think of nothing more pointed to make him understand his utterly selfish, self-serving behavior.
I predict that Vermont Republicans, after the first horror of Mr. Jeffords betrayal has been assimilated, will be relieved. Understandably, the rest of the country has always thought he had “broad support” here. Nothing of the kind. Republicans, from right to moderate, have always know that at heart he is a liberal Democrat and for that reason have never been comfortable with, nor endorsed him wholeheartedly. The reason he has been returned to office year after year is, frankly, that the party has not been able to field from this tiny population anyone else with a statewide reputation. Tellingly, his financial campaign support last year was largely from out of state.
His tenure has been a vicious circle. Over the years there have been fewer and fewer attractive primary opponents. The Democrats, knowing a good thing when they see it and confident of his support on their important issues (Hillarys health scheme, Bills conviction), pretty much sit out his primaries. Simply put, he has had no real competition that I can remember.
Republicans have been increasingly afraid to rock the boat just because he has always won and there was always a small chance he would unexpectedly cast a vote according to conservative principle. His candidacy and his success have always been by default. As party-leader-standing-for-nothing he does not attract followers. In fact, I believe that the sorry state of the Republican Party in Vermont, empty coffers, low enrollment, can be laid at his door.
So what it comes down to is that the top four political leaders of Vermont Howie, Bernie, Pat and Jim have contrived over the years to turn the population from self-reliant, independent minded and literate to dependent on state largess, unable and/or unwilling to do critical thinking about what was happening to Vermont. Mr. Jeffords betrayal of his in-state Republican supporters, of the administration of which he had implied he would support and his obvious reach for sainthood as a principled leader should now stand exposed.

Barbara West lives and writes in Vermont.

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