Switching parties

In a move that will have some far-reaching repercussions on Capitol Hill, Sen. James Jeffords announced Thursday in his home state of Vermont that he will leave the Republican Party and become an independent. His decision was no surprise for many, and the uneasy balance of power in the Senate has been replaced with a slim one-vote Democratic majority over the Republicans. As Democrats quietly celebrate their new grip on power, they must take control of the chamber they lost in the 1994 midterm elections and move on with the nation’s business.

With this shift in power, Sen. Tom Daschle from South Dakota will replace Mississippi Sen. Trent Lott as majority leader and all committees will now be in the hands of Democrats. Along with the obvious philosophical changes the new leadership will bring, it will be of interest to see how quickly Daschle will attempt to move Democratic legislative priorities forward. Gone now are the days where Democrats can complain their voices are not being heard and that a Republican-dominated government was taking America down the wrong path on issues such as the environment, education and spending priorities. The complaining that originated from Daschle and his fellow Democrats must now be turned into action if they want to convince America they deserve to remain in power.

It is also good to see that the Democrats have kept their gloating to a minimum and their celebrations private. It was mere months ago that the Democrats were hoping their Republican counterparts would stay civil as they took control of the executive and legislative branches of government. As Jeffords has shown, each side clings tediously to power and the situation can be altered by an individual. This shift will have a positive impact on our government by creating a better sense of balance. With Republicans controlling the House and the White House, and a Senate controlled by the Democrats, it will allow for a wider debate and better legislation to pass.

As Republicans look within their ranks for someone to blame, it is more likely that not one single person was responsible for Jeffords leaving, but the culprit is, in fact, the entire Republican Party. As the party has been slowly shifting rightward; it has been abandoning its more moderate voices that appealed to undecided voters. With Republicans in the White House, bullying tactics – including Vice President Dick Cheney asking Tim Pawlenty not to run for Sen. Paul Wellstone’s seat – have increased, in an attempt to get people to tout the party line. Jeffords is a prime example of how this strategy has failed.

As Republicans spend this Memorial Day weekend contemplating their loss, they should realize that strong-arm tactics do not sit well with the American public, as well as members of their own caucus. Republicans should be wary of statements such as the one Sen. Arlen Specter made, suggesting the possibility of a filibuster. Republicans must work to tout the civility they have so loudly preached over the past few months. It will be a test for both parties to move beyond personal politics and continue to focus on the people’s business. America will be watching.