Senate races likely to impact Jeffords, Leahy

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(Host) Even though their names are not on the ballot, Vermont’s two United States senators have a lot at stake on Election Day. If the Republicans gain control of the U.S. Senate, Pat Leahy and Jim Jeffords will no longer chair two of the Senate’s most important committees.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) It was roughly a year and a half ago that Senator Jim Jeffords turned the power structure of Washington upside down when he left the Republican party to become an independent. Because of the change, the Democrats took over as the majority party in the Senate. When that happened, Jeffords became the chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee and Leahy took over as the chair of the Judiciary Committee.

Middlebury College political science professor Eric Davis says Leahy’s leadership of the Judiciary Committee has had an enormous impact on the congressional debate over national security issues since the September 11 terrorist attacks. And if the Democrats retain their majority in the Senate, Davis says Leahy would play a pivotal role reviewing any vacancies for the U.S. Supreme Court:

(Davis) “If the Republicans were to regain control of the Senate, I wouldn’t be surprised if either Chief Justice Reinquist or Justice O’Connor would think seriously about retiring from the Supreme Court at the end of the current term, in the summer of 2003. That would give President Bush the opportunity to nominate their successors while the Republican majority was in control of the Senate.”

(Kinzel) Davis says the future leadership of the Senate’s Environment Committee could also have some national implications:

(Davis) “If the Republicans regain control of the Senate, the chair of the Environment Committee will be Senator James Inoufe of Oklahoma – who on matters having to do with energy policy, clean air clean, water approaches those issues from a very different point of view than Senator Jeffords. Jeffords has been one of the leaders in, for example, preventing oil drilling in the Alaskan national wildlife refuge. And I’m sure Senator Inoufe will try to put that legislation on the fast track if he were to become the chair of the committee.”

(Kinzel) It may not be clear which party will control the Senate until early December because there’s a good chance that the Louisiana Senate race will not be decided until a runoff election is held at the beginning of next month.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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