There is an enormous amount of speculation as to why Senator Jim Jeffords left the Republican Party to become an independent. There should not be. The truth is simple: Vermont is a progressive state where most citizens are opposed to the right-wing corporate agenda being pushed by President Bush and the Republican leadership in Congress. Jeffords has simply highlighted how, on issue after issue, a wide gulf exists between the thinking of most Vermonters and the views of a Republican Party increasingly dominated by the wealthy and multinational corporations.
As Vermont's only congressman, I get around the state a lot and hold many town meetings. I have yet to meet one Vermonter who thought it appropriate that we adopt a tax policy, as the president has pushed, that would give hundreds of billions of dollars in tax breaks to the richest 1 percent of the population - people with a minimum income of $375,000 a year. Instead, it is my impression that most Vermonters believe we should use the federal surplus to lower the national debt, increase funding for education, extend the solvency of Social Security, and provide a prescription drug benefit under Medicare.
Vermont has always taken environmental protection seriously. We were one of the first states to keep billboards off our highways, provide a deposit for bottles, and pass legislation that encourages responsible development. With a long history of Yankee frugality, we have always believed that it is important to save and conserve. Vermonters were recycling long before it became a fashionable concept.
Unlike Bush, most of us do not believe that oil drilling should take place in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve, and we do not think that the solution to the energy crisis lies with the building of more and more power plants at great threat to the environment. Rather, we see enormous potential for energy conservation and the growing use of alternative sources of energy.
In my own city of Burlington, because of an aggressive energy conservation program initiated by our publicly owned electric company, we have cut electric use over the last 10 years by 25 percent for homeowners and have lowered consumers' electric bills.
Burlington also has one of the largest wood-burning power plants in the country. As a result of a partnership between the federal government and a private utility company, more than 2,000 homes in Vermont receive cost-effective electricity by wind power - the fastest-growing source of new energy in the world.
Vermonters have long been conservative regarding individual liberties and civil rights. Every member of the Vermont congressional delegation and every statewide elected official, regardless of party affiliation, supports a woman's right to choose with regard to abortion.
The president and the Republican leadership, on the other hand, would like to stack the federal bench with judges who would make abortion illegal. Despite all the talk about getting the federal government out of people's lives, they are determined to dictate a very personal decision to millions of women.
Vermont is a rural state, and we are proud of the efforts of our family farmers in producing good quality food. Like the rest of rural America, we fear that if present trends continue and family farmers are driven off the land, food production in this country will rest in the hands of a few large agribusiness corporations. This will be a disaster for consumers, and for the food security of this country.
Vermont supports such legislation as the Northeast Dairy Compact, which is designed to protect family farming. The president, on the other hand, would not lose a night's sleep if the giant corporate agribusinesses who underwrite the Republican Party owned all of the farmland in America and ran our family farms out of business.
The list of differences goes on and on. On issue after issue, Vermonters want government policy to represent the middle class and working families of this country and our environment, while the Bush administration and Republican leadership are anxious to protect the wealthy and powerful interests.
Let me be clear. Jeffords and I have disagreed on a number of issues and have supported each other's opponents in Vermont elections. But we are in absolute agreement that the Republican Party has moved far to the right and is out of touch with the needs of ordinary Vermonters - and ordinary people throughout this country.