March 10, 2003
Co-authoring a new book on a pivotal senator has been a turning point for veteran journalist and SFSU journalism Associate Professor Yvonne Daley.
"An Independent Man: Adventures of a Public Servant," co-written with U.S. Sen. James Jeffords of Vermont and historian Howard Coffin, was published in February. It examines the storied career of a hard-to-classify politician best known for his 2001 decision to leave the Republican Party, throwing control of the Senate to the Democrats.
It was the first book for the award-winning journalist who has published thousands of articles in newspapers and magazines. She says the year-and-a-half process has taught her how to do "incredible amounts of research" and sustain a consistent voice while writing hundreds of pages.
Daley (right), who divides her time between San Francisco and Vermont, says collaborating with Jeffords stemmed from her 20 years of journalism in Vermont, where she has written stories for the Boston Globe and Rutland Daily Herald, among others. The project began in fall 2001 when Jeffords approached her for tips on compiling his memoirs. Over several months her involvement enlarged into a full-blown writing job, leading to hundreds of interviews and months of exchanging ideas and texts with the three-term senator.
She says the key to understanding Jeffords is that he grew up in a family "where public service was among the most revered pursuits a person could choose."
That background was the context for a series of path-breaking moves by Jeffords as a Vermont state senator, attorney general and U.S. senator, she says. He was noted as one of the few remaining socially liberal Republicans who did not fall into line as party ideology shifted in the 1970s and 1980s. He championed strong environmental protections, alternative energy sources and, most of all, education.
"Jeffords is an absolute national leader in education," Daley says. And education became the issue that would galvanize Jeffords to leave his party.
In early 2001 the senator believed he had the Bush administration's backing for his education agenda, which included boosting funds to move special education students into mainstream programs. When the president's budget was released, Jeffords was dismayed to find that it not only failed to increase spending, but instead proposed cuts.
Being jilted by the administration only amplified Jeffords' increasing isolation within the party. In May 2001 he announced his departure from the Republican Party to become an independent.
"He felt in this one move he could restore balance of power to government," Daley says.
For Daley, working with Jeffords marks a transition into book writing. She is now working on two other books: a history of the Environmental Protection Agency's efforts to control water pollution and her memoirs.
She thinks projects like hers contribute to the success of SFSU's nationally recognized Journalism Department because many of the faculty are working journalists. One trend she has incorporated into her teaching is narrative journalism -- using the tools of storytelling to enliven otherwise dry or complex issues.
"I hope that I'm part of a dialogue among journalists and educators on how we can do our job better and restrengthen our role in informing and entertaining people," she says.
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