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.”
In a statement, President Barack Obama said 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 Jeffords’ Senate seat in 2006.
U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said Monday that 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.”