August 18, 2014, 11:40 am
Independent Jeffords dies at 80
By Ramsey Cox
Former Sen. Jim Jeffords, whose decision to leave the Republican Party in 2001 and become an independent tilted the Senate to Democratic hands, died on Monday at the age of 80.
Jeffords served as an independent in the Senate for the final five years of his term and caucused with Democrats. By doing so, he made Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) the Senate's majority leader during President George W. Bush's administration.
Before his decision, the Senate was split between 49 Republicans and one independent who conferenced with Republicans, and 50 Democrats. Vice President Dick Cheney broke tie votes.
After Jeffords's defection, Democrats had 51 votes. But their majority was short-lived, as Republicans took control of the Senate again after the 2002 midterm election.
In exchange for changing his party affiliation, Jeffords was named the chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
Jeffords was never up for reelection again after he left the GOP. He retired from the Senate in 2006, when he would have been up for reelection. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) won his Senate seat that year.
Jeffords served in Congress for more than 30 years, first in the House for 14 years, and then in the Senate.
He was known as a centrist, and he decided to become an independent after Senate Republicans declined to fund the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act.
"He was a partner in our work for Vermont, and he was a friend," Sen. Pat Leahy (D-Vt.) said. "He was a Vermonter through and through, drawn to political life to make a difference for our state and nation. Part of his legacy will also stand as an enduring chapter of the Senate's history."
A former aide said Jeffords's health had been declining for a while, according to The Associated Press.