Former Sen. James Jeffords (I-VT) has died
Former Sen. James Jeffords (I-VT) has died at 80, the Burlington Free Press reports.
"Jeffords was regarded as a maverick in Washington even before he split from the Republican Party in 2001, decried the party's rightward shift and criticized what he saw President George W. Bush's political intransigence on a number of issues... Jeffords' decision to become an independent in 2001 rocked the nation by giving control of the Senate to the Democrats, costing his Republican colleagues their committee chairmanships."
He was the one man between Stupid and dictatorship. The House ran away from the anthrax scare. Jeffords kept the Senate open for business and the committee chairmen Democrats.
He was a hero. I wish we had been free to honor him as one.
I remember when you broke ranks with Republicans and followed your conscience. Thank you.
Two years later the senator's sleepless nights were back. In anguish, he informed a group of longtime Republican colleagues last week that his differences with his party on fundamentals were so great that he was leaning toward leaving the GOP. "It was the most moving meeting I've ever had with anyone," Jeffords told NEWSWEEK. "There were tears from me and tears from them because we'd worked so hard on so many things together. And to know they had dreamed of chairmanships and now they wouldn't keep them..." Here his already-soft, docile and unsenatorial voice trails off further.
Yet despite those personal bonds--and a lineage in the GOP that stretched back nearly 150 years to the party's founding--the 67-year-old senator believed he must bolt into the breach. Even if he hadn't tilted the balance of power, he told aides, it was time to go. Peering across the aisle at Democrats talking about using the surplus for children's health and early education while Republicans like Phil Gramm sought even deeper tax cuts, he felt hopelessly out of place. "I was not elected to this office to be something I am not," he said after making his momentous announcement in Burlington, Vt., last week. "This comes as no surprise to Vermonters, because independence is the Vermont way."