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Socialist in Senate

Washington, Nov. 10: America has its first Socialist senator. And he is already making conservatives fearful that communism is creeping into their midst!

Bernie Sanders won as an Independent from Vermont this week in his third attempt to get into the Senate. His previous two attempts were in the early 1970s.

Sanders has come a long way since then. He won less than 2 per cent of votes in his senatorial bid 35 years ago.

On Tuesday, Vermont sent him to the Senate with 65 per cent votes, more than twice the number polled by his Republican opponent, a millionaire businessman.

In between, he was mayor of Burlington, Vermont’s biggest city, defeating its six-term Democratic incumbent by getting people from working class wards to exercise their franchise.

Sanders then set about remaking Burlington into a “people-oriented” city in the teeth of opposition from Democrats and Republicans, the business community and the largest Vermont newspaper.

In 1987, the Democrats and the Republicans put up a common candidate to defeat Sanders. But he countered with a “Progressive Coalition”.

During his eight years as mayor, Sanders prevented Burlington’s prized waterfront from falling into the hands of real estate developers: instead, he created “people’s projects”, such as a community-owned boathouse and a nine-mile bicycle path.

Sanders twinned Burlington in sister-city endeavours with Puerto Cabezas in Nicaragua, then ruled by fellow Socialist Daniel Ortega, and Yaroslavl in the communist USSR.

As mayor, Sanders developed an environment-friendly sewage disposal system for his city that cut pollution levels in its Lake Champlain and built one of America’s first biomass electricity generating plants to provide power to Burlington.

But America was still not ready for a Socialist in its larger public life. He lost a bid for Vermont’s governorship in 1986, securing no more than 14 per cent of votes. Two years later, he stood for the US House of Representatives and lost.

But in 1990, his bio-data enhanced by a teaching stint at Harvard, his second effort as an Independent for a House seat was successful. He has since been re-elected seven times.

Sanders shot into fame when he organised a bus trip to Canada with people from Vermont to buy medicines.

The trip made Americans realise that pharmaceutical companies sell medicines in the US at double the price than in Canada and there was a movement against profiteering in drugs.

In this week’s election, the Democrats did not put up a candidate against Sanders for the seat which was vacated by a retiring Independent senator, who was elected as a Republican, but quit the party after George W. Bush was chosen President.

In return, Vermont’s Progressive Party, close to Sanders, decided not to put up a candidate for the House seat he was vacating. That enabled the Democrats to take that seat.

For procedural purposes, Sanders will be considered a part of the Democratic group in the new Senate.

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