May 25, 2001 11:00 pm

Sen. James Jeffords of Vermont announced this week he will be leaving the Republican Party to become an independent. At the same time, Jeffords plans to align himself with the Democratic Party. This gives control of the U.S. Senate to the Democrats for the first time since the 1994 elections. Already Democrats are saying the move will change how things operate in Washington, changing the legislative agenda and who is selected to the federal court.

We would urge Democrats to be careful how they act and what they say as Jeffords goes forward with his plan. For much of the last half of the 20th century, the Democrats controlled the legislative branch of the federal government.

So at least controlling the Senate should not mean a lot to the average American. The Republicans will continue to control the House and the White House, while a more conservative Supreme Court is still seated. What could happen with the Democrats taking command of the Senate is a lot of gridlock and the American taxpayers left wondering who really cares about them.

Another thing to remember is that ever since the presidential elections, Democrats have been courting many prospective candidates to run against sitting Republican senators, since there was such a narrow margin to seize control of the Senate. Democratic Minority Leader Sen. Tom Daschle of South Dakota was urging outgoing Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber to run against Sen. Gordon Smith, a Republican. The narrow margin of control in the Senate will remain an issue.

We would suggest to both Democrats and Republicans that they should learn to work better together when either one controls the Senate or the House. Respecting each other and giving that respect when in committee meetings or on the floor are important. This doesnt mean they always have to agree, but it does make civility important.

Perhaps the Republicans havent taken issues that the public sees as important as seriously as they should. And lest Democrats gloat too much, they were booted out of control in 1994 and that can happen again in 2002.

As for Jeffords, he has crossed a line that will certainly make him a person no one feels they can trust. Maybe Vermonters think its great, but most of us would rather deal with a true blue person of either party than someone who plays the chameleon.


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