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Senator Jim Jeffords dies at age 80

Senator Jim Jeffords left the G.O.P. in 2001 throwing the Senate to the Democrats.
Senator Jim Jeffords left the G.O.P. in 2001 throwing the Senate to the Democrats.,_May_2000.jpg

Jim Jeffords spent his entire political career bucking trends. Nominally a Republican, Jeffords often supported positions contrary to his party. Eventually, the Vermont senator left the G.O.P. to caucus with the Democrats. In the end, Jeffords compiled a liberal voting record at a time his party represented conservative values.

The future senator graduated from Yale University in 1956 and Harvard Law School in 1962. He became active in local politics during the sixties. Jeffords scored electoral success when voted to the Vermont State Senate in 1966 and the state's attorney general two years later. In 1974, he was elected to the U.S. House of Representative with 53% of the vote. The Republicans as a whole lost 48 seats in Watergate's wake.

Jeffords established a moderate record in the House of Representatives. He worked diligently on behalf of the disabled and education reform. Additionally, the congressman showed a streak of independence. He voted against the Reagan tax cuts in 1981. No other G.O.P. member opposed the president.

Vermont liked Jeffords independent streak. In 1988, he won election to the U.S. Senate. By 2001, no Republican had a voting record as liberal as Jeffords. As a senator, he supported gays in the military, the Brady Bill, the Clinton health care plan, and against a ban on affirmative action. Jeffords also opposed the Clarence Thomas nomination to the Supreme Court. On top of this, he supported LGBT rights and opposed a ban on late term abortions.

Senator Jeffords did not always oppose his party on key issues. Generally, he supported the free market economy. Jeffords backed the Balanced Budget Amendment, free trade, and strict bankruptcy laws. On top of this, he voted for the popular prescription drug benefit. However, differences with his party eventually became too great.

Policy disagreements eventually convinced Jeffords to abandon the G.O.P. In 2001, Jeffords left the G.O.P to caucus with the Democrats. By this time, the Senate was split 50/50 with Vice President Dick Cheney holding the tie breaking vote. As a result, the Republicans held control of the body. Jeffords opposed the Bush tax cuts, worried about the deficit, and was furious when his colleagues refused to fully fund the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. His defection threw the Senate to Democratic control. Jeffords' seat had been held by the Republicans since 1857.

Four years after the momentous decision to leave the G.O.P., Jeffords announced his retirement. He probably would have won re-election handily in 2006, but opted to care for his ailing wife. Hard feelings remained from 2001. The only Republican to pay tribute to the retiring Jeffords was Chuck Grassley.

Jim Jeffords passed away in 2014. The senator did not follow convention. He won a seat in the House of Representatives in the dark days of Watergate. The congressman opposed the Reagan tax cuts of 1981. The senator supported Hillarycare in 1994. Eventually, he abandoned the Republican Party to caucus with the Democrats. In the end, Jeffords established a record of independence unlike any other member of congress in recent memory.

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