Sen. James M. Jeffords (I)|
Last Updated July 31, 2001
seat up 2006
Born: May 11, 1934,
Education: Yale U., B.S. 1956, Harvard U., LL.B. 1962
Marital Status: married
- Political: VT Senate, 1966-68; VT Atty. Gen., 1968-72; U.S. House of Reps. 1974-88.
- Professional: Law clerk, 1962-63; Practicing atty., 1963-69, 1973-75; Shrewsbury Repub. Party Chmn., 1963-74; Town Agent, Grand Juror, 1964.
- Military: Navy, 1956-59, Naval Reserves, 1959-90.
DC Office: 728 HSOB
202-224-5141; Fax: 202-228-0776; Web site: www.senate.gov/~jeffords
802-658-6001; Montpelier,802-223-5273; Rutland,802-773-3875.
Jim Jeffords, the senator whose departure in May 2001 from the Republican Party gave the Democrats a majority in the Senate, was elected to the House in 1974 and to the Senate in 1988, and over those years compiled one of the most liberal voting records of any Republican. He grew up in Rutland, son of a Vermont chief justice, went to Yale, served in the Navy, went to Harvard Law School and then returned to Shrewsbury in the Green Mountains to practice law. He was elected state senator in 1966, at 32, and then state attorney general in 1968 and 1970. In 1974, he was elected to the House and in 1988, when Senator Robert Stafford retired, to the Senate. There he has a record ever so slightly to the left of midpoint of the Senate, and has voted as often with Democrats as any Republican senator. In the Clinton years he voted for family and medical leave, motor voter, national service, the Brady bill and the 1994 crime package, despite Vermont's anti-gun control sentiment; in July 1993 he announced he was supporting the not-yet-written Clinton health care plan--the only Republican member of Congress who ever did. He was one of four Republican senators to vote for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in October 1999, one of four to vote for the Democratic version of the minimum wage in November 1999; he voted for the Democratic version of the estate tax cut in July 2000 and in July 1999 cast the decisive vote for the Republicans' $792 billion tax cut only after inserting an increase in the Earned Income Tax Credit. In 1999 he backed a bill to increase funding of the National Endowments of the Art and the Humanities.
From 1997 to May 2001 Jeffords was chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. He was initially opposed by some conservatives, but backed by Majority Leader Trent Lott (they were part of the Singing Senators quartet); he promised, "I won't hold up legislation that all Republicans except me want.'' Sometimes he has opposed committee Democrats, led by Edward Kennedy. He took the lead on the Republican bill to allow worker-management consultation, vehemently opposed by labor unions. With Bill Frist he sponsored his own medical errors bill in June 2000, with voluntary reporting. He opposed the House version of the patients' rights HMO regulation. He opposed the Clinton proposal for 100,000 new teachers. On other issues he has worked with Democrats. His bill to allow import of prescription drugs from other countries passed 74-21 in July 2000 and was ultimately signed. He sponsored with Kennedy an Internet pharmacy bill, requiring disclosure of business locations and contact information. In July 2000 the Senate voted 58-40 for his bill to prevent insurance companies from using or requiring genetic information for determining coverage or rates. He proposed a "DrugGap" program to provide private health insurance with prescription drug coverage for low-income Medicare recipients. With Bill Frist and John Breaux, he proposed to create a $2,000 family health insurance tax credit, for those without employer-provided insurance and ineligible for Medicaid. He worked to overhaul the FDA and to double funding of the Ryan White CARE Act. He has backed funding for state services for the developmentally disabled and retaining federal benefits for the disabled who work. He has opposed school vouchers, even the limited number proposed by Republicans in Washington, D.C.
On other issues, he was the principal Republican co-sponsor of hate crimes legislation and of the bill to ban discrimination because of sexual orientation; he supported the Vermont civil unions law. Prompted by Chinese imprisonment of a Tibetan who had once studied at Middlebury College, he voted against permanent normal trade relations with China in order to retain the annual human rights review. He obtained funding for Vermont projects--$9.3 million for the Vermont Guard Aircraft Maintenance Complex, $2.4 million to compensate sheep owners for animals destroyed because of mad cow disease, $6 million for the Bennington Bypass, $1.25 million for technology upgrades for police departments. A history buff, he had a bill to catalogue and study unprotected Civil War sites, has sponsored a Revolutionary War and War of 1812 historic preservation act, and backs an historic corridor along the New York-Vermont border.
As the new chairman of the Envrionment and Public Works Committee, Jeffords is likely to follow the lead of environmental advocacy groups. It is unclear what the effect will be on the proposed Superfund changes sought by Republican Chairman Bob Smith and some Democrats.
In the runup to the 2000 election, Jeffords was able to strengthen his standing by using his seniority and clout. A February 1999 poll showed him leading Congressman Bernie Sanders, the Burlington Socialist, by only 42%-37%, and Sanders was giving serious thought to the race. Then in 1999 IBM, Vermont's biggest employer, announced it was shifting from defined-benefit to cash-balance pensions, a move that would sharply reduce the pensions of many workers over 45. Protest was loud, and Sanders leaked an IRS memo on the IBM plan and called for a 50% tax on a company's pension surplus if it didn't allow employees to opt out of cash-balance plans. Jeffords did not go as far, proposing instead that companies must notify workers of changes that would significantly reduce pensions, but after conferring with IBM executives was able to announce that the company would limit the scope of its pension conversion; it decided that workers over 40 with 10 years service could remain in the old plan. In addition, Jeffords supported a portability act that would allow workers to take retirement savings with them when they switched between private sector, public sector, and nonprofit jobs.
Then in November 1999 Jeffords obtained a major concession when he got Majority Leader Trent Lott and Speaker Dennis Hastert to agree to a two-year extension of the Northeast Dairy Compact and to reject the market-oriented reforms promised by the 1996 Freedom to Farm Act and supported by the Clinton administration. The compact allows much higher prices for milk in the Northeast, and is strongly opposed by Upper Midwest dairy farmers; overturning them was a major achievement. Meanwhile, House Democratic leaders, unwilling to give up a sure seat in Vermont, promised Sanders a seat on the Appropriations Committee if Democrats won a majority in the House. In November 1999 Sanders announced for reelection; Jeffords said, "I believe Congressman Sanders has made the decision that is right for Vermont."
That left Jeffords in strong shape for re-election. In 1994, against underfunded state Senator Jan Backus, he had won by only 50%-41%, a sharp decline from his 70%-30% win in 1988, when his real contest was in the Republican primary in which he beat a conservative 61%-39%. By early 2000 Jeffords's position was much stronger. He could demonstrate that his seniority had produced results from Vermont, and he had established a bipartisan reputation: he voted against both counts of impeachment, and Bill Clinton once referrred to him as "my favorite Republican." He was endorsed by NARAL and Planned Parenthood for his support of abortion rights, endorsed by the NEA and AFT for his opposition to vouchers and because he chaired their key committee, and co-endorsed by the Human Rights Campaign because of his support for gay rights.
Democrats had a contest in the September primary in which state Auditor Ed Flanagan beat Jan Backus by only 49%-46%. As state Auditor since 1992, Flanagan is a self-described "bulldog" street fighter, and had used his office to constantly criticize Governor Howard Dean's administration for wasting taxpayers' money on health care, child care, transportation, the environment, and the awarding of bids and tax breaks. He accused Jeffords of working in "lockstep" with Trent Lott and said he hadn't delivered sweeping change on universal health care, prescription drug benefits, and campaign finance reform. Playing little role in the campaign was the fact, announced by Flanagan in 1995, that he is gay, even despite the swirl of criticism of Vermont's civil unions law. Flanagan, who had not entered a civil union with his longtime partner, said this was "a great testament to Vermonters' commitment to human rights and to their insistence on judging an individual based on character and ability and performance and not on their private lives. It's a statement about what is possible, and where the rest of the country can go."
Jeffords ran far ahead in polls and declined to participate in debate unless two minor party candidates were included; he left a large part of his campaign treasury unspent. As he said in October, "After all these years, I don't think Vermonters have any misconceptions about me. They know who I am and what I stand for. Things look very good, to be honest with you." Jeffords won 66%-25%, and among demographic groups ran less well only with those under 30 (52%-43%). He won 70% and 71% among Protestants and Catholics and led 50%-41% among those with no religion. After the election, he said he might run for governor in 2002 if he lost his chairmanship, but that seems unlikely now. In a Senate equally divided, his penchant for bipartisan and his position at ideological midpoint makes him a potential major player. As he said in November, "There's no question that moderates on both sides--Republicans and Democrats--are aware that we have a great responsibility to try to make sure we can move forward to get things done. We don't want gridlock." The defeat of Rod Grams in Minnesota removed from Republican ranks its one Upper Midwest opponent of the Northeast Dairy Compact, which in early 2001 seemed likely to be renewed again. Since popular election of senators became law, no Vermont senator has been defeated for reelection; it doesn't seem likely to happen soon.
What prompted Jeffords's party switch in 2001? He had opposed the policies of Republican presidents, but had never before served in the Senate majority with a Republican president. His refusal to support the $1.6 trillion Bush tax cut left it one vote short in the Senate; the result was a $1.3 trillion cut, which Jeffords voted for even as he announced he was leaving the Republican Party. On education, he may have been dismayed that most of the negotiations on the Bush education program were conducted between Kennedy and Bush aide Sandy Kress. He sought $1.5 billion for special education in a meeting with Bush on April 3; after Bush aides agreed, he evidently decided that wasn't enough and demanded more. Much was made of the Bush White House's non-invitation of Jeffords to a ceremony honoring a Vermont teacher as teacher of the year. But no member of Congress was invited to the ceremony, and it is hard to believe that Jeffords switched parties because of such a small snub. He may have been more disturbed by conservative columnists' reports of further White House retaliation, including possible opposition to the Northeast Dairy Compact, but Democrats are unlikely to save that because it is fiercely opposed by the Democratic senators from Wisconsin and Minnesota. Jeffords attributed his switch to discomfort with a mostly conservative party, but such discomfort had not prompted him to switch during the previous 27 years. More likely he saw an opportunity to extract a chairmanship in return for switching, an opportunity unlikely to exist once Democrats got a majority by the replacement, which to many senators seemed increasingly likely, of Strom Thurmond by a Democrat.
|National Journal Ratings|
Key Votes of the 106th Congress
|1. Educ. Savings Accts.
|2. Prescrip. Drug Benefit
|3. Delay Ergonomic Standards
|4. Phase Out Estate Tax
|5. Review Movie Violence
|6. Gun Show Bckgrnd. Checks
| 7. Ban Part.-Birth Abortion||N|
| 8. Broaden Hate Crimes List
| 9. NATO War in Serbia
|10. Table Cuba Travel Ban
|11. Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty
|12. Perm. Trade with China
||James M. Jeffords (R)
|Ed Flanagan (D)
||James M. Jeffords (R)
|Rick Hubbard (R)
||James M. Jeffords (R)
|Jan Backus (D)
|Gavin T. Mills (I)
|2000||Receipts||Receipts from PACs||Expenditures|
|James M. Jeffords (R)
|Ed Flanagan (D)
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