The first evenly divided U.S. Senate in 120 years has given the 'Prince' the unique opportunity to interview Senate Princetonians and discover their thoughts about the legislative body's new political climate. To ensure we bring you viewpoints from both sides of the aisle, this week's 'Princetonians Beyond the Gate' features U.S. Sen. Paul Sarbanes '54 (D-MD). Next week's section will feature Sen. Christopher "Kit" Bond '60 (R-MO).
As a junior in the fall of 1952, Paul Sarbanes was struck by the stark disparity in the political alignment of the students and faculty at the University.
"There was a poll published in The Daily Princetonian that fall that said that the students were two to one for [Republican Gen. Dwight] Eisenhower, and the faculty was two to one for [Democratic Illinois Gov. Adlai] Stevenson ['22]," Sarbanes recalled.
"I had this one class, a large class, and one day the professor came in and said, 'I noticed the poll in the 'Prince' today,' " Sarbanes said with a chuckle, " 'and it certainly seems that Princeton undergrads are not allowing their education to interfere with their politics!' "
While the political leanings of Princeton undergraduates may have changed since 1952 — Sarbanes noted that the University's student body "is a lot more diverse now than in my day" — the influence of politics in the life of Sarbanes and his family has wavered little since 1961, when he began to work for the Maryland General Assembly.
A Wilson School major and former president of the USG — which was then known as the Undergraduate Council — Sarbanes studied at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar before retreating back across the Atlantic to attend Harvard Law School.
He won his first elected office in 1966, gaining a seat in the Maryland House of Delegates. In 1970, he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives and has served in every Congress since.
Sarbanes has also served in every Senate since 1976. But none of them have been as evenly divided as the current 107th, which has an even number of Republicans and Democrats for the first time since 1881.
"Of course it would be much better if we had a Democratic majority," the five-term senator said, pointing out that the Republicans have an effective majority with the tie-breaking vote of Vice President Dick Cheney, who serves as president of the Senate.
"I was hoping as we went into it we could win a majority but that didn't come to pass," Sarbanes said.
Sarbanes said he would try to work with President Bush, but said he thought "in the end, how well [Bush and the Democrats are] able to work together depends on the issues in the public arena."
"I'm very concerned about [the President's] budget proposals," the senator said, "including ensuring that his spending and tax programs don't throw the nation back into the deficit whole. I think that's a desirable objective."
Sarbanes was also one of the most vocal critics of Bush's nomination of former Missouri Sen. John Ashcroft as attorney general.
"Senator Ashcroft has never hidden the fact that he has planted himself at the extreme of the political spectrum," Sarbanes said in a statement delivered to the Senate floor. "In fact, he has taken pride in that fact and asserted it in the course of his political career. Moderation is not a word which enters into his political thinking. In fact, on more than one occasion, he has belittled moderation," Sarbanes told his Senate colleagues.
Sarbanes also said he was "deeply concerned" about the Florida election troubles that gripped the nation for six weeks after Election Day. "One of the purposes and objectives of the democratic political process is that people should participate," he said.
The ranking member of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee is passionate about public service and said that students should aspire to serve their communities for "the health of our public political system."
It is important, Sarbanes said, "that people of ability and competence take part in [public service]. And public service doesn't just mean elected political office — that should be kept in mind as well. Anyone who heads up a school board or library board may render up a very helpful service to their community."
Besides public participation, Sarbanes also places a high value on education.
"I remember growing up, my father would tell the story of how when he was at Princeton my grandfather would tell him never to take it for granted," said Sarbanes' son Michael '86, who is director of policy & planning for Maryland Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.
Michael Sarbanes said his father was very fortunate to get a scholarship that enabled him to attend the University. He said his grandfather, who emigrated from Greece, was passionate about learning.
"He would come up to visit [my father]," Michael Sarbanes said, "and he placed a huge value on education, but was never able to get it for himself. So he would lose himself in the stacks at the library when he would come up to visit."
"My father always said a Princeton education was an incredible opportunity not to be taken for granted, and that we should use that opportunity to extend the same kinds of opportunities to others," Michael Sarbanes said.
"All three of [Sen. Sarbanes'] children went to Princeton," said son John '84, "and I don't think that was an accident."
Now a partner at the Baltimore-based law firm of Venable, Baetjer and Howard, LLP, John Sarbanes remembered that "Princeton was the place we heard about the most growing up, and I might be overstating this a bit, but to a certain age I wasn't really aware that there were other universities out there."
"I do remember that my dad would get genuinely excited and enthusiastic every semester when we were looking at the courses we were going to take," Sarbanes said, pointing out that his father loved to take part in the semiannual ritual.
"And he had 10 years opportunity to engage in that, with all three of us," Sarbanes said, referring to himself, Michael and sister Janet '89. "He always said he had a nostalgia for the days when he had that opportunity to probe intellectually."
Though he never pressured any of his three children to be involved in politics, "Dad clearly did push us to be engaged in the affairs of the community," said John Sarbanes, who is former president of the Maryland Public Justice Center, a non-profit organization dedicated to "protecting and expanding the legal rights of the underrepresented," according to his law firm's Website.
"One of his favorite themes is to talk about what it means to be a citizen and involved in the life of your community," Sarbanes said. "He likes to say how the word 'idiot' comes from the Greek 'idiotes,' which means someone who is involved only in their own personal affairs," he said. "His career was an example to us."
Though their political philosophies may differ, Sen. Sarbanes and fellow Princetonians in the Senate are friends. Republican Sens. Kit Bond '60 of Missouri and Bill Frist '74 of Tennessee may be Sarbanes' enemies on the Senate floor, but "political party labels are set aside" outside of the chamber, according to Sarbanes.
Sarbanes said he is friends with Sens. Bond and Frist and Reps. Jim Leach '64 (R-IA) and Bob Ehrlich '79 (R-MD). "We always come together especially when [President Shapiro] comes to town," Sarbanes said, adding "there might be some joking around" between the Democratic and Republican alumni in Washington, but that political differences do not interfere with alumni relationships.
Sarbanes also joked that though the GOP has the edge in Princeton alumni in the Senate, the Democrats have the edge in Princetonian parents and children. He pointed out his three children, Sen. Jay Rockefeller's (D-WV) son Justin '02, Sen. Tom Harkin's (D-IA) daughters Amy '98 and Jenny '03 and Sen. John Edwards' (D-NC) daughter Catharine '04 to back up the argument.
"When [former Sen.] Bill Bradley ['65] was here we had a better ratio" of alumni in the Senate, Sarbanes quipped.
Though Sarbanes would surely prefer that any University undergraduate aspiring to be a politician were a Democrat, public service for any cause is what he sees as most admirable, and his children know it.
Asked whether he was pressured by his father to enter public service, John Sarbanes said no.
"But public service was sort of around us in the way that water's around a fish," Sarbanes said. "Would you say water pressures a fish? It shaped the way we saw the world in a fundamental way."