James Jeffords, 80, former Vermont senator
MONTPELIER, Vt. - Former Vermont U.S. Sen. James Jeffords, 80, who in 2001 tipped control of the Senate when he quit the Republican Party to become an independent, died Monday.
Sen. Jeffords died in Washington, said Diane Derby, a former aide. He had been in declining health, she said.
Sen. 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," Sen. 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."
In a statement, President Obama said Sen. Jeffords devoted his life to public service.
"During his more than 30 years in Washington, Jim never lost the fiercely independent spirit that made Vermonters, and people across America, trust and respect him," Obama said.
Vermont's sole congressman, Bernie Sanders, was elected to Sen. Jeffords' seat in 2006.
U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D., Vt.) said Monday that Sen. Jeffords was a partner and friend who worked for Vermont.
"He was a Vermonter through and through, drawn to political life to make a difference for our state and nation," Leahy said. "Part of his legacy will also stand as an enduring chapter of the Senate's history."
Sen. 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 Sen. Jeffords was running as Vermont was just beginning its 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.
When he first moved to Washington, he lived in his office and a travel trailer as a way to save money.
"He was a very frugal guy, both with his own resources and the resources of the people," said Karen Meyer, a former Jeffords aide.
His wife, Liz, died in 2007 after battling cancer.
He later lived in a retirement home in the Washington area and stayed out of the limelight.