Born in 1941, politician Bernie Sanders started out his career as the mayor of Burlington, Vermont. He served four terms as the leader of Vermont's biggest city from 1981 to 1989. Sanders then moved on to the national political arena by winning a seat in the House of Representatives. From 1991 to 2007, he distinguished himself as one of the country's few independent legislators. In 2007, Sanders won election to the U.S. Senate and was reelected in 2012. He announced his plans to run for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2015.
Early Life and Education
Independent politician Bernie Sanders was born on September 8, 1941, in New York. He grew up in Brooklyn as the youngest of two sons of a Jewish immigrants from Poland. His father worked as a paint salesman. As part of a struggling working-class family, Sanders recognized early on America's economic disparity. As he told the Guardian newspaper, "I saw unfairness. That was the major inspiration in my politics," he said. Sanders also counts American socialist leader Eugene V. Debs as an important influence.
Sanders attended Brooklyn's James Madison high school and then went on to Brooklyn College. After a year there, he switched to the University of Chicago. Sanders became involved in the civil rights movement during his time at university and served as an organizer for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. After finishing college in 1964, Sanders lived on a kibbutz in Israel before settling in Vermont. He worked a number of jobs, including filmmaker and freelance writer, while his interest in politics grew.
Burlington and Beyond
In the 1970s, Sanders made several unsuccessful bids for public office as a member of the anti-war Liberty Union Party, which he was a member of until 1979. His first taste of political victory came by the thinnest of margins. In 1981, he was elected mayor of Burlington, Vermont, by only 12 votes. Sanders was able to achieve this win the support of the Progressive Coalition, a grassroots organization. He was reelected three more times, proving that the self-described "democratic socialist" had staying power.
Known for his rumpled clothes and untamed mane, Sanders made an unlikely candidate for national office, but this political underdog scored a 1990 win for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. As an independent, Sanders found himself facing a dilemma. He had to find political allies to advance his issues and legislation. As Sanders explained to The Progressive, he considered working with the Republicans to be "unthinkable," but he did caucus with the Democrats despite "a lot of opposition among conservative Democrats to my being in that caucus."
Sanders sought to switch to the Senate in 2006, running against Republican businessman Richard Tarrant. A self-described "democratic socialist," he managed to defeat Tarrant despite Tarrant's much more substantial funding. Tarrant spent $7 million of his own personal wealth in this election battle.
In 2010, Sanders made the news with his more than eight-hour-long filibuster against the extension of Bush era tax cuts for the wealthy. He felt that this legislation was "a very bad tax agreement" between the president and Republican legislators, he later wrote in the introduction of The Speech: A Historic Filibuster on Corporate Greed and the Decline of Our Middle Class. Sanders ended his time on the Senate floor with a plea to his legislative colleagues to come up with "a better proposal which better reflects the needs of the middle class and working families of our country and to me, most importantly, the children of our country," according to a Washington Post article.
During his time in the Senate, Sanders has served on several committees on issues important to him. He is a member of the Committee on Budget; the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions; the Committee on Veterans Affairs and the Joint Economic Committee. Sanders also champions campaign reform and advocates for an amendment to overturn the Supreme Court decision on Citizens United. Sanders has advocated for expanding voting rights and opposed the Supreme Court decision to disband part of the landmark Voting Rights Act. He is also an advocate for universal single-payer healthcare system. Driven by his sense of protecting the environment, addressing climate change and interest in renewable energy, Sanders is a member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works and the Energy & Natural Resources Committee.
In April 2015, Sanders announced that he was seeking the presidential nomination for the Democratic Party. This longtime independent made the party switch largely out of political necessity. "It would require an enormous amount of time, energy and money just to get on the ballot in 50 states" as an independent, he said to USA Today. "It made a lot more sense for me to work within the Democratic primary system where it's much easier to get on the ballot and have a chance to debate the other candidates."
Experts think it is unlikely that Sanders will be able to wrestle the Democratic nomination away from front-runner Hillary Clinton. But, according to an Associated Press report, Sanders isn't worried about being an underdog in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination. "People should not underestimate me." As a veteran independent, he has "run outside of the two-party system, defeating Democrats and Republicans, taking on big-money candidates."
Staying true to his ideological convictions, Sanders's platform focuses on issues of equality in the United States. Economically, he favors tax reform that increases rates for the wealthy, greater governmental oversight of Wall Street and balancing the disparity between wages for men and women. He also believes in a state-administered health care system, more-affordable higher education and an expansion of the Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid systems. A social liberal, he also supports same-sex marriage and is pro-choice