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James Merrill "Jim" Jeffords (born May 11, 1934) is a former U.S. Senator from Vermontmarker. He served as a Republican until 2001, when he left the party to become an independent.

Background

Jeffords was born in Rutlandmarker, Vermontmarker, the son of Marion Hausman and Olin Jeffords, who was formerly Chief Justice of the Vermont Supreme Court. Jeffords holds an undergraduate degree from Yale Universitymarker (1956) and a law degree from Harvard Law Schoolmarker (1962). After three years of active duty in the United States Navy (1956–1959), Jeffords served in the Naval Reserves until he retired as a Captain in 1990. Jeffords married his late wife, Elizabeth "Liz" Daley twice. Their first marriage was in 1961. In 1979 the couple divorced. On August 26, 1986, they married again, exactly 25 years after their first marriage. Liz Jeffords died on the morning of April 13, 2007, after a long struggle with ovarian cancer. Senator Jeffords and his wife had two children, Leonard and Laura. Jeffords's residence is in Washington DCmarker.

Political career

Jeffords entered politics in 1966, winning a seat in the Vermont State Senate. He followed that success in 1968 with a victory in the race for Vermont Attorney General. In 1974, he won Vermont's sole seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, where he served for 14 years and was the ranking Republican member of the House Education and Labor Committee. In 1988, Jeffords was elected to the U.S. Senate, and was reelected in 1994 and 2000.

Jeffords's work in Congress focused on legislation involving education, job training, and individuals with disabilities. In his later years in the Senate, his emphasis shifted somewhat, as Jeffords pushed several important pieces of environmental legislation through Congress. He was, together with Paul Simon, credited by Canadian Lieutenant-General Roméo Dallaire, Force Commander of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR) from 1993 to 1994, for actively lobbying the US administration into mounting a humanitarian mission to Rwandamarker during the Rwandan Genocide. According to Dallaire's book Shake Hands with the Devil, he "owe(s) a great debt of gratitude" to both senators.

Jeffords was one of the founders of the Congressional Solar Coalition and the Congressional Arts Caucus. Jeffords was frequently recognized for his performance as a legislator, receiving Parenting magazine's "Legislator of the Year" award in 1999, and the Sierra Club's highest commendation in 2002.

Departure from the GOP

On May 24, 2001, Jim Jeffords left the Republican Party, with which he had always been affiliated, and announced his new status as an independent. Jeffords discussed this decision during his announcement that he was leaving the Republican Party. "I will make this change and will caucus with the Democrats for organizational purposes once the conference report on the tax bill is sent to the president. I gave my word to the president that I would not intercept or try to intervene in the signing of that bill". Jeffords decided to switch when the Senate Republicans had refused to fully fund the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

The independent status of Jeffords changed the Senate composition from 50-50 (with a Republican Vice President, Dick Cheney, serving as President of the Senate to break tie votes) to 49 Republicans, 50 Democrats, and one independent. Jeffords promised to vote for Democratic control after being promised a committee chairmanship by Democratic Leader Tom Daschle. He then handed his chairmanship of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, which he had held since 1997, to Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and was given the chairmanship of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which would have been occupied by ranking minority member Harry Reid. Jeffords held this committee chair until the Democrats lost control of the Senate in 2003 following Congressional elections in 2002.

Jeffords made a deal with the Democrats according to which he would vote with them on all procedural matters except with permission of the whip, which would be rarely asked and rarely granted, in exchange for the committee seats that would have been available to Jeffords had he been a Democrat during his entire Senate tenure. He was free to vote as he pleased on policy matters, but more often than not he voted with the Democrats.

The seat that Jeffords occupied had been held by a Republican from 1857, when Solomon Foot became a Republican, until 2001 when Jeffords became an Independent, making it the longest Republican-held seat in U.S. history.

Senate record

Even before his party switch, his voting record was moderate-to-liberal, which has long been typical of Republicans from New Englandmarker. By the time of his switch, no Republican Senator had a lower lifetime score from the American Conservative Union. In 1981, Jeffords was the only Republican member of the House to vote against a bill reducing the top tax rate from 70 percent to 50 percent — a hallmark of President Ronald Reagan's legacy. During his time in the Senate, he voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1991, the Brady Bill, the Family and Medical Leave Act, an end to the ban on gays serving in the military, and against permanent normal trade relations with China and barring affirmative action at the federal level. Jeffords was also vocal in his opposition to the nomination of Clarence Thomas to the United States Supreme Courtmarker by President George H.W. Bush. He was one of only two Republicans to vote against confirming Clarence Thomas. In 1993, he was the only prominent Republican to support President Clinton's unsuccessful attempt to establish a national healthcare plan. His position put him to the political left of many Democrats who had serious doubts about Clinton's plan. Jefford's voting record and positions on environmental issues put further distance between himself and the mainstream Republican Party.

Jeffords consistently voted against the ban on partial-birth abortion, and also against a harsher line on Cubamarker. In 1995 he was one of only 16 Senators to vote against the Communications Decency Act. The Supreme Courtmarker later struck it down as unconstitutional. Jeffords highly advocated LGBT rights in the workplace. He sponsored The Employee Non Discrimination Act of 1995 (104th Congress), 1997 (105th Congress), and 1999 (106th Congress). Jeffords Non Discrimination bills did not include "gender identity." He was in the minority of Republicans to oppose the Flag Desecration Amendment. On guns his record was mixed, despite voting for the Brady Bill and the Assault Weapons Ban, he voted with gun control opponents against background checks at gun shows in 1999 and he voted with the majority of Congress for the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act. He took a more moderate line on the death penalty. On many economic issues Jeffords was roughly in line with the majority of the Republican Party, before and after his switch: he mostly supported free-trade agreements, voted for making enforcement of consumer protection laws more difficult by moving many class-action lawsuits into federal courts, tighter bankruptcy rules, and a Balanced Budget Amendment. Even after becoming an independent, he did vote with Republicans on many major pieces of legislation. For example, Jeffords did vote against the Bipartisan Patient Protection Act, a bill supported strongly by Republican John McCain and many moderate Republicans like Olympia Snowe, Arlen Specter, and Mike DeWine. Two years later he voted for the prescription drug bill, derided by many Democrats as a give away to drug companies and opposed by many conservative Republicans who opposed further federal spending, but ultimately strongly supported by President George W. Bush, and the vast majority of the Republican Party.

On October 11, 2002, Jeffords was one of 23 senators to vote against authorizing the use of military force in Iraq. Shortly after that, he was one of only nine senators to vote against the bill establishing the Department of Homeland Securitymarker. On November 11, 2003 Jeffords was one of only four senators to vote against the Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act, a bill which received strong support from politicians from across the aisle.

Retirement

In April 2005, Jeffords announced his decision not to run for re-election in 2006. Jeffords said his wife's cancer and his own growing health concerns caused him to decide it was time to retire. On September 27, 2006, Jeffords delivered his farewell speech on the Senate floor after 32 years of service. Only one Republican senator, Charles Grassley of Iowamarker, spoke to the floor in praise of Jeffords, whom he called his "friend." Floor speeches for retiring senators are a Senate tradition. The 70-year-old incumbent decided to retire despite consensus within the political community that he had good opportunity to win re-election in 2006. Jeffords's move set off a domino reaction among state politicians. Congressman Bernie Sanders, formerly the only independent in the U.S. House, ran for and won the seat being vacated by Jeffords, while Republican Governor Jim Douglas declared that he would not run.

Further reading

  • James M. Jeffords, My Declaration of Independence (Simon & Schuster, 2001). ISBN 0-7432-2842-1
  • James M. Jeffords, An Independent Man (Simon & Schuster, 2003). ISBN 0-7432-2843-X


See also



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