Bernie Sanders was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2006 after 16 years as Vermont’s sole Representative in the House of Representatives, the first Independent elected to congress in 40 years. He is now the longest serving independent in American Congressional history.
Bernie believes that in the richest nation in the history of the world, all Americans should enjoy a decent standard of living. He believes that it is unacceptable that millions of people are forced to work for sub-standard wages and lack health care, decent housing and educational opportunity. He regards it as a national disgrace that the United States has, by far, the highest rate of child poverty of any industrialized country and a childcare system that is abysmal. He regards it as unconscionable that the United States remains the only country in the industrialized world which does not have a national health care system guaranteeing health care for all, and that millions of seniors lack the prescription drugs they desperately need.
The Almanac of American Politics called Sanders a “practical” and “successful legislator.” He has focused on the shrinking middle class and widening income gap in America that is greater than at any time since the Great Depression. Other priorities include reversing global warming, universal health care, fair trade policies, supporting veterans and preserving family farms. He serves on six Senate committees: Budget; Veterans; Energy and Natural Resources; Environment and Public Works; Health, Education, Labor and Pensions; and the Joint Economic Committee. He is Chair of the Subcommittee on Green Jobs and the New Economy.
Most of Sanders’ energy has been devoted to issues that affect the needs of the people that government often ignores – working families, the middle class, the elderly, children and the poor. In a nation in which the wealthiest one percent own more wealth than the bottom ninety-five percent, and where the CEOs of major corporations earn 500 times what their employees make, Sanders believes that the middle class and working families of our country need all the help they can get. Sanders has also been strongly involved in environmental issues, and in protecting the rights of women, minorities and the gay community.
Before being elected to Congress, Sanders served as the first Independent Mayor of Burlington from 1981-1989. In his four election victories he defeated Democrats and Republicans and, in 1987, defeated a Democrat backed by Republicans. As Mayor, Bernie helped make Burlington one of the most exciting and livable small cities in America. Under his administration the city made major strides forward in affordable housing, progressive taxation, environmental protection, childcare, women’s needs, youth programs, the arts and in creating a people-oriented waterfront. The Sanders administration also created sister-city programs in the former Soviet Union and Nicaragua. Politically, with Sanders as Mayor, Burlingtonians created the Progressive Coalition that became the third political force in the city. The Progressive Coalition became the forerunner of the Progressive Party of Vermont, currently the state’s third major party.
In 1986, Sanders ran for Governor of Vermont. He lost, but his 14 percent was, up to that point, the highest vote for a non-Democrat, non-Republican in modern Vermont history. In 1988, he ran for Vermont’s lone seat in the U.S. House of Representatives and lost again in a nail-biter. The winner, former Republican Lieutenant Governor Peter Smith, received 41 percent of the vote while Sanders, an Independent, received 38 percent and the Democratic candidate Paul Poirier received 18 percent. The importance of that election was that Sanders put to rest the so-called “spoiler” argument, having received far more votes than the Democrat. In 1990, Sanders ran for Congress again. This time he won, defeating Smith by 16 percentage points. The Democratic candidate came in a distant third.
When Sanders was elected to the House of Representatives in 1991, he was concerned that there was no organized group in Congress to represent the economic interests of the average American. Along with four other members of the House he founded the House Progressive Caucus, which has now grown to 76 members across both chambers of Congress. Sanders chaired the caucus for its first eight years. The Progressive Caucus, on a wide variety of matters, has helped lead the effort in Congress to protect the interests of the ordinary citizens of this country who cannot afford to contribute large sums of money to buy political influence.
*More information about Senator Sanders can be obtained from his political autobiography, Outsider in the House, by Bernie Sanders and Huck Gutman, Verso Press, 1997. Other books that describe his political career as Mayor of Burlington, Vermont and candidate for Congress are: People’s Republic: Vermont and the Sanders Revolution, by Greg Guma, 1989; Challenging the Boundaries of Reform: Socialism in Burlington, by W.J. Conroy, 1990; Socialist Mayor: Bernard Sanders in Burlington, Vermont, by Steven Soifer, 1991; Making History in Vermont: The Election of a Socialist to Congress, by Steven Rosenfeld, 1992. More recently, Senator Sanders historic December 10th, 2010 filibuster was made into the book The Speech: A Historic Filibuster on Corporate Greed and the Decline of Our Middle Class, by Bernie Sanders, Nation Books, 2011.