A lot of people have asked me which races in 2006 are going to be most crucial. The disgusting Katherine Harris of Bush-Gore 2000 fame is running in Florida - should defeating her be progressives' biggest priority? Or what about taking out wild-eyed right-wing lunatic Sen. Rick Santorum in Pennsylvania?
Both of these races, and many others, are definitely important. But if you are a progressive who wants to start seeing some fundamental, long-term change (as opposed to short term incrementalism), there's one race in 2006 that stands head and shoulders above the rest in terms of significance: The race to replace retiring Sen. Jim Jeffords in Vermont.
Why do I say this? Because the leading candidate in that race is Vermont's Independent Congressman Bernie Sanders - the longest-serving Independent in Congress. This is not a man who is independent in the "between Democrats and Republicans" way - this is one of the most committed progressives ever to hold federal office, a man who is an independent because he has long believed the current political system is bought by Big Money. Electing him to the U.S. Senate transcends this election because it would elevate one of the strongest voices progressives to the national stage - a stage that, beyond a handful of courageous leaders like Ted Kennedy and Paul Wellstone, has been sorely lacking strong progressive voices for years.
You may have recently heard about Sanders after he managed to defy a veto threat by President Bush and pass legislation to reform the Patriot Act. You might also have heard about him when he was the first Member of Congress to take seniors to Canada to highlight how the drug industry is ripping off Americans with the highest prices in the world.
But if you don't know much about Sanders and think I am overblowing the case, do yourself a favor and read this new piece on him in Vermont's Rutland Herald - the newspaper that covers one of the more conservative-leaning areas of the state. If you don't want to read an article, check out some video of Sanders' angrily confronting people like Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan - people that most bought-off politicians are too afraid to criticize in private, much less challenge in public.
Make no mistake about it - the GOP and its Big Business backers are going to do everything they can to try to knock off Sanders. They have already recruited a multi-millionaire corporate executive who has pledged to spend $5 million of his own money to try to buy the election. And Sanders faces special challenges because he refuses to accept corporate PAC money. That's why you should join me in heading over to his website and making a donation. No matter how small, it is important - Sanders has always relied on small contributions from ordinary people to fund his campaigns.
For far too long, the U.S. Senate has been a wholly-owned subsidiary of Corporate America, taking orders from Big Business and conservative interest groups. Electing someone like Sanders to the Senate would finally give The Rest of Us a voice in an insitution we have been locked out of. That's why this is the most important election of 2006: because it goes beyond the short-term partisan makeup of Congress, and finally gives us a chance to power someone who fights for real people into the most exclusive, elitist-dominated, and important institutions in America.