|United States Senator
January 3, 1989 – January 3, 2007
|Preceded by||Robert Stafford|
|Succeeded by||Bernie Sanders|
|Chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee|
June 6, 2001 – January 3, 2003
|Preceded by||Bob Smith|
|Succeeded by||Jim Inhofe|
|Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee|
January 20, 2001 – June 6, 2001
|Preceded by||Ted Kennedy|
|Succeeded by||Ted Kennedy|
January 3, 1997 – January 3, 2001
|Preceded by||Nancy Kassebaum|
|Succeeded by||Ted Kennedy|
|Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Vermont's at-large district
January 3, 1975 – January 3, 1989
|Preceded by||Richard W. Mallary|
|Succeeded by||Peter Plympton Smith|
|Attorney General of Vermont|
|Preceded by||James L. Oakes|
|Succeeded by||Kimberly B. Cheney|
|Member of the Vermont State Senate|
|Born||James Merrill Jeffords
May 11, 1934
Rutland, Vermont, U.S.
|Died||August 18, 2014
Washington, D.C., U.S.
Northam CemeteryShrewsbury, Vermont
|Political party||Republican (before 2001)
Independent (after 2001)
|Spouse(s)||Liz Daley (1961–1978; 1986–2007)|
|Alma mater||Yale University
|Service/branch||United States Navy|
|Years of service||1956–1959|
|Unit||Navy Reserves (1959–1990)|
James Merrill "Jim" Jeffords (May 11, 1934 – August 18, 2014) was a U.S. Senator from Vermont. Sworn in to the Senate in 1989, he served as a Republican until 2001, when he left the party to become an Independent and began caucusing with the Democrats. Jeffords retired from the Senate in 2007. Prior to the Senate, he served as the U.S. Representative for Vermont's at-large congressional district from 1975 to 1989.
Jeffords was born in Rutland, Vermont, the son of Marion (née Hausman) and Olin Merrill Jeffords, who served as Chief Justice of the Vermont Supreme Court. He had said that his mother was a relative of French architect Georges-Eugène Haussmann. Jeffords graduated from Yale University in 1956 and Harvard Law School in 1962. After three years of active duty in the United States Navy (1956–1959), Jeffords served in the Naval Reserves until retiring as a Captain in 1990. During 1962 and 1963 he was a law clerk for Ernest W. Gibson, Jr., Judge of the United States District Court for the District of Vermont, afterwards practicing law in Rutland.
A longtime resident of Shrewsbury, Jeffords became active in politics and government in the 1960s as Shrewsbury's Grand Juror, Town Agent and Zoning Administrator, in addition to serving as Chairman of the town's Republican committee. He also served as Rutland County's Chairman of the Board of Property Tax Appeals.
Jeffords married his late wife, Elizabeth "Liz" Daley twice. Their first marriage was in 1961; in June 1978, the couple divorced. On August 26, 1986, they married again, 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, both of whom live and work in the Washington, D.C., area. After his wife's death, Jeffords resided in Washington, D.C., a move he made in order to live near his son and daughter.
Jeffords won a seat in the Vermont State Senate in 1966. He followed that success in 1968 with a victory in the race for attorney general of Vermont. He was a Presidential Elector for Vermont in 1972, and voted for reelection of the Nixon-Agnew ticket.
Jeffords sought the Republican Party nomination for Governor in 1972, but was defeated in the primary by Luther "Fred" Hackett.
In 1974, after winning the Republican nomination with a plurality in a three-way race, 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' 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 he pushed through Congress several important pieces of environmental legislations. 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 Rwanda 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.
During part of his tenure in the Senate, Jeffords sat at the Candy Desk.
Departure from the GOP
On May 24, 2001, 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' opposition to the policies of the George W. Bush administration, including concerns over the size of the Bush tax cuts, motivated his party switch. Jeffords' switch was also motivated by the refusal of Senate Republicans to fully fund the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. In his announcement speech he stated, "Increasingly, I find myself in disagreement with my party... I understand that many people are more conservative than I am and they form the Republican Party. Given the changing nature of the national party, it has become a struggle for our leaders to deal with me and for me to deal with them."
The 2000 Senate elections had left the Senate with a 50–50 split in partisan control, forcing Democrats and Republicans to negotiate an unusual power-sharing arrangement (although Republican Vice President Dick Cheney could break tie votes). Following the election, Democrats sought out a Republican to defect from the Republican caucus, which would give Democrats control of the chamber. Democratic whip Harry Reid courted Jeffords, Lincoln Chafee, and John McCain as potential party-switchers. After being promised the chairmanship of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee to offset his loss of a committee chairmanship under Republican control, Jeffords decided to change parties, and gave up the chairmanship of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, which he had held since 1997. Jeffords' switch gave Democrats control of a chamber of Congress for the first time since the 1994 elections, and Jeffords is the only Senator in history to tip the balance of power in the Senate by switching parties. However, the effects were not long-lasting: 18 months later, after Republican Jim Talent won a special election to the Senate from Missouri, the Senate switched back to GOP hands.
Jeffords agreed to vote with the Democrats 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 voted with the Democrats.
Jeffords's party switch made him only the second Senator from Vermont to caucus 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.
(The Aiken-Gibson wing of the Vermont Republican Party were those party activists and office holders identified with progressive policies. The party's conservatives comprised a pro-business wing, which was led by the Proctor, Fairbanks, and Smith families. In addition to Aiken and Gibson, other members of their wing of the party in the 1950s and 1960s included Jeffords and Robert Stafford. Members of the party's conservative wing included Harold J. Arthur, Lee E. Emerson, and Winston L. Prouty.)
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 per cent to 50 per cent — 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 of 1993, 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 Supreme Court of the United States 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. Jeffords's voting record and positions on environmental issues put further distance between himself and his Republican Party colleagues.
Jeffords consistently voted against the ban on partial-birth abortion, and also against a harsher line on Cuba. In 1995, Jeffords was one of two Republican Senators, the other being Bill Frist of Tennessee, to vote in favor of confirming Dr. Henry Foster as Surgeon General ; the vote failed, and Foster's confirmation was ultimately denied. In 1995 he was one of only 16 Senators to vote against the Communications Decency Act. The Supreme Court 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 Federal 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 United States Department of Homeland Security. On November 11, 2003 Jeffords was one of only four senators to vote against the Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act, a bill that received strong support from politicians from across the aisle.
Retirement and death
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. Floor speeches by and in tribute to retiring senators are a Senate tradition, but only one Republican senator, Chuck Grassley of Iowa, spoke on the floor in praise of Jeffords. 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. Governor Jim Douglas opted not to run, and Richard Tarrant won the Republican nomination. Bernie Sanders, then the only independent in the U.S. House, ran as an independent. Sanders also won the Democratic nomination by write-in, but declined it. In the general election, Sanders defeated Tarrant and four minor candidates, receiving 65 percent of the vote.
Jeffords died of Alzheimer's disease on August 18, 2014, at Knollwood, a military retirement facility in Washington, D.C., where he had lived for eight years. He was 80 years old. He was buried at Northam Cemetery in North Shrewsbury.
- Vermont Secretary of State, Vermont Legislative Directory and State Manual, 1985, page 446
- James M. Jeffords, An Independent Man: Adventures of a Public Servant, 2003, page 12
- "Jim Jeffords". NNDB. Retrieved October 10, 2012.
- Marquis Who's Who, Who's Who in Government, Volume 3, 1977, page 300
- James M. Jeffords, An Independent Man: Adventures of a Public Servant, 2003, page 291
- "Jeffords, James Merrill (b. 1934)". The Political Graveyard. Retrieved October 10, 2012.
- "JEFFORDS, James Merrill, (1934 – )". Biographical Directory of the United States Congress. Retrieved October 10, 2012.
- Kane, Paul (August 18, 2014). "How Jim Jeffords single-handedly bent the arc of politics". Washington Post. Retrieved August 19, 2014.
- 'Did the Democrats Sucker Jim Jeffords?', by Timothy Noah, Slate.
- "Jeffords Leaves Republican Party". Washington Post. May 24, 2001. Retrieved September 17, 2014.
- Associated Press (August 18, 2014). "Former US Senator Jim Jeffords dead at 80". wptz.com. Retrieved August 18, 2014.
- Rutland Herald, Obituary, James Merrill "Jim" Jeffords, August 20, 2014
- Akers, Mary Ann (2007-12-20). "With Lott Gone, Larry Craig Is Last Singing Senator". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2009-03-26.
- 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
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Jim Jeffords.|
- Biography at the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress
- Appearances on C-SPAN
James L. Oakes
|Attorney General of Vermont
Kimberly B. Cheney
|United States House of Representatives|
Richard W. Mallary
|Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Vermont's At-large congressional district
Peter Plympton Smith
|Party political offices|
|Republican nominee for U.S. Senator from Vermont
1988, 1994, 2000
|United States Senate|
|United States Senator (Class 1) from Vermont
Served alongside: Patrick Leahy
|Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee
|Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee
|Chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee