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Listen: 15 Years Ago, Vermont's Jim Jeffords Triggered A Political Earthquake

Toby Talbot
AP File Photo
Sen. Jim Jeffords declared his independence from the Republican party at a press conference in Burlington 15 years ago, on May 24, 2001.

Fifteen years ago today, a senator from Vermont triggered a political earthquake. Sen. Jim Jeffords declared his independence from the Republican party on May 24, 2001.

Jeffords’ decision tipped the balance of power from Republican to Democrat in the Senate.

Listen to the statement that Jeffords made at the Radisson Hotel in Burlington, with a bit of context from VPR's Jane Lindholm:

The senator said he was not leaving the Republican party, but that the party had left him as it grew more conservative.

Jeffords, who died in 2014, had a long political career that was defined by that fierce independent streak, as well as advocacy for Vermont agriculture, in particular dairy farmers.

Listen to the full Vermont EditionThat Moment, 15 Years Ago, When Jim Jeffords Declared Independence

Erik Smulson, the vice president for public affairs at Georgetown University, was Jeffords’ longtime spokesman. And he recalls that Jeffords was one of a core group of a Senate moderates of both parties who helped forged compromises in Congress.

“That’s one thing, in today’s politics, that I think Jim would be sad about – just, you know, compromise, or moderation, is almost a bad word,” Smulson told Vermont Edition Tuesday.

Smulson says that voice of moderation is largely missing in Washington.

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