He may well be best remembered for tipping the political balance in the U.S. Senate in 2001, when he switched his political affiliation from Republican to Independent. It cost the GOP potential control of that body, which was evenly split 50-50 at the time, but with a Republican Vice President in place, tie votes were likely to go their way. Jeffords move, prompted by a failure of the Senate to fully fund an act providing for special education services along with a general disaffection with the drift of the party's policies, was therefore an act of principle as well as political courage. One can imagine what he must have made of the emergence of the Tea Party wing of the GOP in recent years.
Some might say Jeffords risked little, since the days when Vermont was a Republican stronghold were already history, but that misses the point. Jeffords embodied the tradition of moderation and bipartisanship that the national GOP would do well to get back to, and from time to time, seems to be trying to. But just as former Gov. Jim Douglas showed it was possible to win statewide office in one of the bluest states in the nation by respecting its voters and talking common sense, so did Jeffords, whose national political career began with his election to the House of Representatives in 1974, where he served for 14 years before moving up to the Senate in 1988. He stayed in office until 2006, when he chose not to run for re-election.
Before any of that, however, Jeffords had already served in a series of local and statewide offices, giving him a solid grounding in understanding the voters.
Jeffords championed several causes while in national office, and is best remembered for his work for education, the disabled, the environment and the arts.
Locally, he should be remembered for something else - it was Jeffords who arranged for the federal financing that helped pay for most of the work on Manchester's Roundabout. It paid for all of the construction. Jeffords also was instrumental in securing funding to reconstruct and extend the widely used sidewalk from the downtown all the way up to the Town Hall and the adjacent trailer park. It's obvious that both pieces of infrastructure, so needed and successful, are examples of public dollars well spent - and might not have come to be without Jeffords's support.
For all those reasons, we join Vermonters everywhere in saying, "Thanks, Jim."
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