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Former Vermont Sen. Jeffords, Who Once Tipped Senate Scale, Dies

Former Vermont Sen. James Jeffords died Monday at the age of 80, a former aide said.
Mark Wilson
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Former Vermont Sen. James Jeffords died Monday at the age of 80, a former aide said.

Former Sen. James Jeffords, whose exit from the GOP gave Democrats temporary control of the Senate, died Monday, a former aide said. The Vermont senator was 80 years old and living in a retirement community in Washington.

Jeffords stunned the political establishment when he switched to become an independent in 2001.

"Jeffords' decision caused a national uproar," reports Vermont Public Radio's Steve Zind. However, he tells our Newscast Desk, Jeffords' "long-standing moderate-to-liberal views and his work on education and environmental issues were a comfortable fit for many of his constituents who continued to support him."

(Jeffords is not alone in his defection, as NPR's Alan Greenblatt noted in this 2012 roundup.)

Republicans were able to reclaim control of the Senate 18 months later.

Jeffords did not seek re-election in 2006, "citing his and his wife's health problems," The Boston Globe reports. His wife died in 2007 after battling cancer, the paper notes.

Jeffords had a career spanning more than three decades. The Globe has this background:

"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."

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Dana Farrington is a digital editor coordinating online coverage on the Washington Desk — from daily stories to visual feature projects to the weekly newsletter. She has been with the NPR Politics team since President Trump's inauguration. Before that, she was among NPR's first engagement editors, managing the homepage for NPR.org and the main social accounts. Dana has also worked as a weekend web producer and editor, and has written on a wide range of topics for NPR, including tech and women's health.