- The Washington Times - Friday, November 8, 2002

Sen. Zell Miller of Georgia says he will not flip from Democrat to Republican, despite his criticisms that his party is headed in the wrong direction.

Asked whether he was even considering it, Mr. Miller responded with a simple and direct "No."

Senate Republicans are not surprised and say the Georgia Democrat holds more power as a fence-sitting swing vote.

Mr. Miller is vocal about his dissatisfaction with Democratic leaders, fueling speculation he would join the ranks of other former Democrats, such as Sens. Richard C. Shelby of Alabama, Phil Gramm of Texas, Strom Thurmond of South Carolina and Ben Nighthorse Campbell of Colorado, and switch to the Republican Party.

"I just cannot understand what the leadership was thinking of, when just weeks before an election, there we were making a huge public display of saying that we're not going to go along with the president on homeland security in a time when this country's at great danger," Mr. Miller said.

Sen. Max Cleland, Georgia's junior Democratic senator, was defeated Tuesday, in part for helping block the creation of a Homeland Security Department, despite his service in Vietnam, where he lost both legs and an arm.

Mr. Miller had been the lone Democrat supporting the president's homeland security proposal, and in a statement yesterday he praised the president's call for the Senate to pass the bill before adjourning.

The Georgia Democrat predicted before Election Day that his party would lose seats, and says the message from the electorate was "to put partisanship aside and work with the president."

Asked if incoming Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi was courting Mr. Miller, spokesman Ron Bonjean said, "The Senate Republican conference always has an open door for Sen. Miller."

Conservative Democrats in the House fear their party lurch to the left after the resignation of House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, Missouri Democrat, if he is replaced by Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California.

Some Senate Democrats, such as John Kerry of Massachusetts, also are calling for the party to move further left to distinguish themselves from Republicans.

"If they could take a terrible mistake and compound it, they would be doing it with that. That's the craziest idea I've heard yet," Mr. Miller said. "I thought we used to be the party of the big tent. They're about to make it just the party of the small, little sideshow.

"You've already got a party that is so divided that moderates feel like they almost are unwelcome. It's hard for me to understand why you would take a party and try to make it more narrow instead of trying to make it broader, and that's exactly what you would be doing," Mr. Miller said.

Before the election, lawmakers speculated that Sen. Lincoln Chafee, Rhode Island Republican, who often votes with Democrats, might also jump ship if Republicans took the majority by one vote and give the majority back to Democrats.

Sen. James M. Jeffords of Vermont handed Democrats the majority last year when he switched from Republican to independent. The flip earned him the chairmanship of the Environment and Public Works Committee.

Mr. Miller and Mr. Chafee are both freshmen with little seniority, so neither could be rewarded with a committee chairmanship.

However, Tripp Baird, a former Senate leadership aide and director of Senate relations for the Heritage Foundation, said a Chafee defection could change Mr. Miller's mind.

"If Chafee decides to go on a kamikaze mission to change parties, if he wants to commit political suicide, he could force Zell Miller's hand," Mr. Baird said.

But because they cross party lines to vote, Mr. Baird said it's unlikely either senator will give up the catbird seat by switching parties.

"These guys are on the fence, so they are players. Jump parties, and you are not a player," Mr. Baird said.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide