(MONTPELIER, Vt.) — Former Vermont U.S. Sen. James Jeffords, who in 2001 tipped control of the Senate when he quit the Republican Party to become an independent, died Monday. He was 80.
Jeffords died in Washington, said Diane Derby, a former aide to Jeffords. He had been in declining health, she said.
Jeffords had announced in 2005 that he would not seek a fourth term, citing his and his wife’s health problems.
“I have had an enormously satisfying career, one that I would not have traded for any other,” Jeffords said when he retired. “In no other job do you have both the freedom and obligation to solve problems and help people on a daily basis.”
Vermont’s sole congressman, independent Bernie Sanders, was elected to Jeffords’ Senate seat in 2006.
Jeffords served more than 30 years in Washington. He won election to the House in 1974 as a Republican. The post-Watergate year was a strong one for Democrats nationally, but Jeffords was running as Vermont was just beginning his shift from a century of solid Republicanism to its current status as among the most liberal states.
The Rutland native, a graduate of Yale and Harvard Law School, already had won statewide office as attorney general and was from a well-known Vermont Republican family. His father, Olin Jeffords, had been chief justice of the state Supreme Court.