Editorial: Senator’s decision was badly timed

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 25, 2001

Vermont’s Sen.

Friday, May 25, 2001

Vermont’s Sen. James Jeffords’ party switch dramatically changed the balance of power in Washington Thursday. In an instant, the overall result of last fall’s Senate elections was overturned.

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If Jeffords’s defection from the Republican Party were merely a personal decision, and one the voters who elected him could live with, there would have been nothing wrong with his decision to become an independent. Many Vermont residents, indeed, seem to support the move; they seem to have voted based on the person, not the party, and it appears Jeffords’ votes won’t change.

However, the decision’s impact goes beyond the political affiliation of one man and his state. It swayed the balance of power in the U.S. Senate from one side to the other, a move that will result in new committee chairmen and a new majority leader.

The voters of Vermont picked a Republican to represent them, knowing that might be the difference in deciding the close contest for control of the Senate. Control of the U.S. Senate had never changed hands except through an election until Thursday. That’s the way it ought to be. After hundreds of representatives are elected nationwide, America’s consensus is determined by the number elected from each party. That consensus should be in the hands of voters who can expect to get a full term from the party they voted for.

Jeffords certainly has the right to change parties, and if it’s in his conscience to leave the GOP, he had the right idea by following it. But to be elected a few months ago, then defect and cause a major shift in power, was a case of bad timing.